The University of Cape Town’s Intellectual Property (IP) Unit strives to add an African voice to the global debate on IP-related issues. Our focus is on examining the link between IP, innovation, development and public policy. We aim at creating a leading IP programme in Africa that translates cutting edge research into excellent teaching and increases the number of highly-skilled African IP experts. Important issues range from the way in which we access and share knowledge to strategies how to commercialise inventions and avoid misappropriation. IP is a key determinant of human development, economic growth and competitiveness; and IP rules impact on various public policy areas including health, research and development, bio-diversity, clean technologies, food security, and education.

Our views regarding the “Four Corners” piracy case sentence

the_pirate_bay_logoVery recently, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court sentenced a man to a three-year suspended sentence and fined him R3,000 or a six-month suspended sentence for posting a copy of a local movie, Four Corners, on Pirate Bay.

A/Prof. Caroline Ncube eloquently discusses the case on Afro-IP, and Dr. Tobias Schonwetter, the IP Unit’s director, summarises his thoughts in the following CC-licensed article by Adam Oxford in

“Today’s ruling that the first person to be convicted of online copyright infringement in South Africa must serve a three year jail sentence, fully suspended for five years, has been slammed as “draconian” by a leading academic in the field of intellectual property.

The court passed judgement on a man from the Cape Flats earlier today, who pleaded guilty to uploading a torrent link to The Pirate Bay and a digital file containing South African gangster movie Four Corners. The offender said that he was relieved with the verdict as it meant he could walk free from the court.

Dr Tobias Schonwetter, director of the Intellectual Property Unit at the University of Cape Town, says that he is “surprised by the harshness” of the sentence.

“On the face of it, the sentence of three years imprisonment fully suspended appears draconically harsh,” Schonwetter says, “And reminds me of the heavy punishments in other countries that have been widely criticised for not tackling the underlying reasons for online piracy; and for not achieving the objective of reducing piracy either. However, Mr Norton may actually prefer this sentence to being fined thousands of Rands.”

Schonwetter says that the final judgement may show a lack of understanding of the current entertainment market. Continue reading

2013 Gobal Congress presentations and video clips are now online

Conference-LogoThe combined 3rd Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest and the Open AIR conference was hosted by our IP Unit  in December 2013 and brought together IP issue leaders from around the world in Cape Town to discuss various issues under the theme Refining the positive agenda: Global questions, local answers? This theme emphasised the refrain against one-size-fits-all approaches for all aspects of IP policy, including “the public interest”.  Many of the event’s presentations are now available online and can be accessed through the congress’ online programme. Moreover, more than two dozen video clips from the event can now be found here.

South African Intellectual Property Law Journal (IPLJ)

Intellectual_Property_Law_Journal.jpg.400x400_q85The first issue of South African Intellectual Property Law Journal (IPLJ) edited by the IP Unit’s Lee-Ann Tong and Prof. Caroline Ncube is now in print. The IPLJ strives to be the journal of choice for academics, practitioners and students of IP law. The IPLJ includes articles on recent developments in legislation, policy and case law to keep IP practitioners at the forefront of the law. The journal contains, among other things, articles, notes and updates, comments and book reviews. The IPLJ accepts submissions on an ongoing basis, however, the final submission date for the 2014 issue is 30 April 2014. Submissions and enquiries can be directed to the Editors at . Guidelines for contributors are available here.

Launch of two new publications

Openair-books-930Two new publications in the area of knowledge, innovation and intellectual property in Africa were launched at the Global Congress & Open A.I.R. Conference, 9-13 December 2013, in Cape Town. Both publications are a result of the Open Air project, hosted by the IP Unit. The book Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, based on case studies and evidence collected through research across nine countries in Africa, sheds new light on the complex relationships between innovation and intellectual property. It covers findings from Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa, across many sites of innovation and creativity including music, leather goods, textiles, cocoa, coffee, auto parts, traditional medicine, book publishing, biofuels and university research. Various forms of intellectual property protection are explored: copyrights, patents, trademarks, geographical indications and trade secrets, as well as traditional and informal mechanisms of knowledge governance. The picture emerging from the empirical research presented in this book is one in which innovators in diverse African settings share a common appreciation for collaboration and openness. The complementary report Knowledge & Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future grapples with the complex and dynamic forces shaping innovation systems over the next two decades. It distills three different but equally plausible future scenarios: one a world of “wireless engagement,” another where “informal is the new normal,” and a third that is “sincerely Africa.” Each scenario raises different issues for control and access to knowledge in Africa. Both the book and the report are available for download here.

IP, Innovation, Public Interest Converge At Conference

[originally posted under CC-BY-NC-ND licence by William New on Intellectual Property Watch

Conference-LogoAcademics, advocates, lawyers, government officials and others meeting this week have heard of the launch of several new books and research tools to better understand the relationship of intellectual property, development and social issues. In particular, discussion in the early part of the conference focussed on a book revealing evidence from extensive primary research on the ground in 13 countries across the continent. The Open African Innovation Research (Open A.I.R.) conference and the Global Congress on IP & the Public Interest is taking place in Cape Town from 9-13 December. The conference, now in its third year, is a who’s who of advocates in the access to knowledge and public health fields who are interested in intellectual property issues. But it increasingly is reaching beyond that perspective. Prof. Tobias Schonwetter, head of the IP Unit at the host University of Cape Town, opened the conference by saying the past two such meetings, in Washington, DC and Rio de Janeiro, had a big impact, and that this year, “I have no doubt that our voice will be heard again.” But he pointed to the need to overcome a “dichotomy” between the private and public sectors, which in fact are increasingly converging. He said he hoped this event would be the start of reaching out better. Schonwetter noted that in November at an industry-led IP conference in Durban, South Africa (IPW, Developing Country Policy, 25 November 2013), private sector did not respond to his remarks that IP needs to better consider social costs. He said people working on these issues need to do a better job of explaining. “Our value proposition to the private sector is somewhat blurry at this point,” said Schonwetter. He noted that the Open A.I.R. project is using Africa as a proxy for bigger issues that can apply anywhere. While industry does not appear to be in attendance among the hundreds of participants, there are many lawyers and academics, and the World Intellectual Property Organization is here, along with representatives from the African regional organisations, and national government officials. Two IP-related publications were launched this week. The publications may be accessed here. The newly arrived book called Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, published by UCT Press, is a rare look at local practices related to IP in a variety of economic sectors in Africa. A second publication released was Knowledge & Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future, which was discussed on the second day.

Continue reading

Open AIR conference / 3rd Global Congress on IP & the Public Interest

Conference-LogoFrom 9 – 13 December over 300 experts from around the world come to the University of Cape Town to explore local solutions to global questions about innovation, intellectual property (IP) and the public interest. The Open African Innovation Research (Open A.I.R.) Conference and Global Congress on IP & the Public Interest takes place at the Protea Breakwater Lodge, home of UCT’s Graduate School of Business and is proudly hosted by our Unit. Conference delegates are also celebrating the launch of two path-breaking publications: Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, published by UCT Press, and its sister report, Knowledge & Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future. “This event comes at a crucial time when policymakers around the world acknowledge the need for more balanced and locally relevant IP laws that facilitate innovation and development, and respond appropriately to the challenges brought about by the digital age,” says Dr. Tobias Schonwetter, Director of the IP Unit. South Africa, for instance, recently published a draft National Policy on IP. That policy seeks to reconcile private interests in protecting IP with the public’s demand for opportunities to access intellectual goods such as educational material, medicines and indigenous knowledge. Professor Caroline Ncube, the IP Unit’s Associate Director, explains: “The conference reflects a growing spirit of South-South exchange, at both research and policy levels, on innovation and IP matters, as suggested by the large number of delegates coming from Latin America and Asia.” Confirmed speakers include Fernando dos Santos (Director General of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization), Marisella Ouma (Executive Director at the Kenya Copyright Board), Herman Ntchatcho (Senior Director, World Intellectual Property Organization), Michael Geist (University of Ottawa, Canada), Ruth Okediji (University of Minnesota, U.S.A.), Peter Drahos (Australian National University), Mark Heywood.

Interested parties can follow the proceedings via our hashtag #gcongress or on the conference website. Some live streaming will be available and we will share many of the presentations after the conference.

DTI plans conference to discuss the National IP Policy

dtiOn 17 October 2013 the comment period for the Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property ended. According to DTI Minister Rob Davies, “[t]he majority of the comments are positive and are commending the South African Government in taking this major step in coordinating its efforts in the IP sphere both nationally and internationally”. UCT’s IP Unit, together with colleagues affiliated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, also submitted comments to the Department of Trade and Industry (click here). In a media statement earlier this months, the DTI has announced that a conference on the policy will be held in November to address the main issues brought up during the public consultation process.  Dates and venue will be communicated as soon as all logistical arrangements are finalised.

CLIPDC: A Conference of Contradictions

[originally posted under CC-BY licence by Isaac Rutenberg on Afro-IP

clipdcWhy this conference, in this place, at this time? The major organizers are the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Companies and IP Commission (CIPC, which is part of the Department of Trade and Industry), and the National IP Management Office (NIPMO), all SA Government organizations. It seems no small coincidence that the SA “Draft National Policy on IP, 2013″ was launched only two months ago, and indeed the Draft Policy is a major topic at CLIPDC. Also, CLIPDC is being used as a forum to launch an “IP Trade Portal“, which functions as a sort of matchmaking service for technologists and investors. It is not exactly clear why CLIPDC is in Durban specifically, although certainly the views of the ocean are worth the journey…

Who’s here? The list of speakers is impressive. Nevertheless, quite honestly, most of the speakers are American or European. South Africa is represented to some degree, but the non-South African voice is all but absent. Frustratingly (at least to this Leo), a representative from ARIPO was scheduled to be present and speaking, but was reportedly unable to attend on account of issues with immigration and obtaining a visa. Consider also that SA seems to have little interest in joining ARIPO (see here, which reports that SA “is counted as a potential member in the near future” but closer look shows that this page was last updated in 2004…). And how many national or regional African patent offices outside SA are represented at the conference? Zero. Even the audience contains only a few non-South Africans from the Continent. It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that CLIPDC is not actually interested in listening to perspectives from developing countries in Africa. On the other hand BRICS countries are well represented. An impressive video-linked session provided presentations from representatives of all of the BRICS patent offices.

What are we talking about? The topics over these three days have been heavily [nay, almost exclusively] related to patents. Other forms of IP are mentioned in passing or in the questions raised from the audience, but are quickly discussed before returning to patents and innovation. The focus on patents can be understood, perhaps, when one considers the non-government sponsors, which include Big Pharma (Pfizer), Health and Personal Products (Philips), the American IP Law Association (AIPLA), an American consulting firm (Knowles IP Strategies), and a local law firm (Hahn & Hahn). The patent-heavy and pro-protection side of the conversations have been somewhat balanced by the presence of representatives from MSF (Doctors Without Borders), University of Cape Town, WIPO, and even the DST itself. Refreshingly, these speakers and delegates have mentioned access to medicines, open access to copyrighted works, protection from biopiracy, and the like. The SA government has clearly put a lot of resources into this event and into IP generally. The Ministers from the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Trade and Industry attended and spoke at CLIPDC on Monday [there seems to be some tension between these Ministries, but politics and social issues in SA are too complicated for this Leo to comprehend]. It’s nice to see so much discussion about IP in SA, although it is also clear that the rest of Africa is being left out of the discussion.

A related article about CLIPDC, authored by William New, can be found on IP Watch.

Plain packaging of tobacco products: could it happen in South Africa?

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 10.41.27 AMOn 20 November 2013, the former federal Minister for Health and Attorney General of Australia, Ms Nicola Roxon, will be giving a keynote address at the Faculty of Law at UCT to discuss the advent of the plain packaging legislation and its aftermath. In Australia, starting on 1st December 2012, it became illegal for tobacco companies to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in anything other than generic or ‘plain’ packaging. Tobacco packaging must be a standard drab dark brown colour, and the printing of tobacco company logos, brand imagery, colours, or promotional text is prohibited. It is a world first and represents a remarkable victory for public health. But this life-saving, public health-focused victory did not come easily. From the time that the Australian Government announced its intention to pass a law mandating plain packaging, the tobacco industry mounted a multi-million dollar campaign to thwart the measure. And once the legislation was passed, four multinational tobacco companies – British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris – challenged the legislation in the Australian courts on constitutional grounds that the government’s action amounted to an acquisition of property other than on just terms. The case was heard in April 2012 and the High Court ruled that plain packaging was constitutional and awarded costs, estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, against the tobacco companies. New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland have announced that they will follow Australia’s move, and other governments, including South Africa, are considering doing so. Could it happen in South Africa?

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IP Unit Seminar Series: “An account of developments in intellectual property law and policy since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994″

seminarsDarchOn 11 November 2013 the IP Unit welcomed Dr. Colin Darch – an honorary research associate in our law faculty’s DGRU and one of the founders of the international CopySouth research group -  for a lunchtime seminar in the law faculty. Dr. Darch presented an account of developments in intellectual property law and policy since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 in an attempt to provide a much needed general overview from a critical perspective of the political economy of copyright, patents, trademarks, geographical indications and so on as a system. Dr. Darch highlighted exemplary cases from South African jurisprudence and characterised various stakeholder groups, incl. politicians, lawyers, creators of IP, universities. He then linked current South African policy and law to developments in the international IP and trade environment. His presentation was followed by a lively discussion with members of the IP Unit and other invited guests.

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