In order for Uganda to progress, resources have been directed towards science and development.
Institutional mechanisms have been established, the relevant policies put in place and activities undertaken towards promoting science and technology in the country in fields likely to perpetuate the country’s success in areas such as agriculture, health, energy, ICT, and transport.
For Uganda to benefit from these initiatives, it is necessary to provide incentives to encourage collaboration among researchers, dissemination of information from research, and development of problem-solving products.
Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is one of the incentives for encouraging collaborative research between the private sector and academia as well as publically-funded research and development institutions.
IPR facilitates information dissemination from research activities, notably due to the requirement to disclose the mode of working on an invention when inventors are seeking protection. This information is thereafter available for the public nationally.
With regards to development of problem-solving products for local needs, researchers have the opportunity to appropriate existing technologies and adapt them to solve local problems. Patent databases contain high quality technology information in all fields of science that can be accessed by researchers to ensure they do not reinvent the wheel.
There exists a considerable amount of indigenous knowledge to solve local problems. However, this knowledge is isolated from the formal channels of commerce and exchange of information. Intellectual property rights protection is one mechanism of not only harnessing the existing indigenous knowledge but also bringing innovations into the formal sector.
Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is the government agency responsible for protection of intellectual property rights through administration of the registration systems provided through the various intellectual property laws.
In order to promote use of IP as an engine for research and development, URSB, in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), has started establishing Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs) at various academic, research and development institutions including Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI), with many more to follow.
TISCs are designed to give innovators easy access to high quality technology information and other IP-related services by facilitating access to online patent documents, scientific journals and technical resources and other IP publications. This is to improve research as well as encourage IP registration and IP commercialization.
The TISC facility and specifically the support from URSB will enable institutions to create the link between what happens in the laboratory with solutions that society needs. It will as at the same time reward researchers not only with journal citations of their work but also with additional income from commercialization of their research outputs.
In addition to TISCs, URSB engages in sensitization activities for scientists, researchers and the general public to use the opportunity available through IP.
In this regard, we have collaborated not only with the private sector but also other government agencies especially Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) and the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) as well as academic institutions to promote use of IP for research and development through those institutions.
On the other hand, URSB continues to develop capacities in providing the appropriate level of service to ensure scientists and researchers can quickly move their products to the market.
We have recruited patent examiners in various fields of science and have also adopted an automated system known as the Industrial Property Automation System (IPAS) such that the institution is adequately equipped to provide an efficient service to scientists and researchers.
Finally, URSB has updated the laws on IP protection specifically the Industrial Property Act, 2014. The act expands the types of IP protected in Uganda to cover industrial designs commonly generated in the fabrication and metal works industry that characterizes most of the informal sector.
The act also provides for the registration of technovations -employee-generated innovations. If there is incidental research done by the employee that is outside the core research objectives of an enterprise or institution, an employee can get protection for that innovation which incentivises them to benefit from a market solution that the employer was not interested in pursuing.
In addition to providing IP services for scientists and researchers, URSB is also responsible for business registration. Formalizing a business is one step towards ensuring that the commercial endeavour from research and development that has been harnessed by IP succeeds and at URSB we will ensure that that step is taken as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The author is the registrar general at URSB and a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute for Social Research.