by Charlene Musiza
Zimbabwe launched its National Intellectual Property Policy and Implementation Strategy https://www.herald.co.zw/just-in-gvt-launches-intellectual-property-policy/ on 28 June 2018, just a few weeks after the South African Cabinet approved South Africa’s IP Policy, Phase 1 [http://ip-unit.org/2018/south-africa-approves-new-ip-policy-with-guidance-from-un-agencies/]. Zimbabwe joins other countries in the SADC region that have adopted national intellectual property (IP) policies like Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles and Zambia. Zimbabwe’s IP Policy, produced by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, is the result of technical assistance from WIPO under the framework of the WIPO Development Agenda [http://www.wipo.int/ip-development/en/agenda/] and various stakeholder consultations beginning with the first draft IP Policy compiled by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Intellectual Property back in 2014. The IP Policy is a cross cutting document aimed to enhance economic, social and cultural development.
The overall objective of the IP Policy is to ensure that the IP governance framework leverages the country’s IP potential for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development. It outlines specific objectives which, among others, include: raising and consolidating IP awareness; enhancing IP knowledge and professional skills capacities; protecting and enforcing IP; and encouraging and facilitating IP commercialisation.
The National IP Policy also lays out the strategies to leverage the IP system for development and addresses six specific goals to facilitate: the use of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for economic growth and development; use of IPRs in science, technology, innovation and other sectors; use of IPRs for rural development; use of IPRs for growth and competitiveness of SMEs; use of IPRs for social development; and use of IPRs for cultural development.
Specific sectors are prioritised in the IP Policy as core to the successful implementation of the policy goals, namely agriculture; industry; health; environment; art, culture and heritage; tourism; trade; and small and medium-scale enterprises. Under each of the prioritised sectors IP-related issues are outlined. These sectors are prioritised as they are considered key to the growth of the economy.
Zimbabwe has largely been an economy sustained by agriculture. However in the last two decades agricultural production plummeted due to the economic and political challenges that the country faced. Efforts have since been made to resuscitate the agricultural sector with the government launching various initiatives to increase production. IP-related issues relevant for the agriculture sector include Geographical Indications, Plant Breeders Rights and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Zimbabwe also has a thriving SME sector and more recent studies have shown that SMEs account for over 60% of employmenthttp://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-0616.php?rp=P545497. According to the National IP Policy, the most relevant IPRs for SMEs include Utility Models, Collective Marks, and Geographical Indications.
The National IP Policy also takes cognisance of Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIMASSET) – the country’s national economic blueprint. It highlights one of the growth focus areas in ZIMASSET: Value Addition and Beneficiation. It is of significance particularly in the context of agriculture to try and diversify the range of products and shift from over-reliance on exporting unprocessed products to trade in finished goods which tend to attract higher prices on the global market. The IP Policy states that value addition and beneficiation in the agricultural sector can unlock the opportunities to use the IPRs listed in both the agriculture and SME sectors in the IP Policy. Though government policies have reiterated the importance of value addition and beneficiation, government actions in this regard have not been satisfactory https://www.theindependent.co.zw/2014/11/03/value-addition-still-pipedream-zim/Implementation has been slow and whether that will change in the future remains to be seen.
It is noticeable, that in the last few years Zimbabwe has taken steps to advance its IP system. On 8 July 2016 the Geographical Indications Regulations were gazetted through Statutory Instrument 70/2016, bringing into operation the Geographical Indications Act (Chapter 26:06) http://www.veritaszim.net/node/1747. This was a significant step to identify products that can benefit from Geographical Indications protection. In addition, the Intellectual Property Tribunal was established following the gazetting of the Judicial Laws Amendment (Ease of Settling Commercial and Other Disputes) Act 7 of 2017 http://www.ip-watch.org/2018/03/13/zimbabwe-establishes-intellectual-property-tribunal-special-division-high-court/.It is hoped that the Tribunal will enable faster resolution of IP disputes. And having judicial officers with IP expertise can lead to better quality judgments and uniformity and consistency of decisions.
The move towards recalibrating the IP environment in the region is commendable. Though different countries in the region have approached it differently, for example South Africa’s IP Policy is to be implemented in a phased approach, an IP Policy that harmonises IP related aspects enables coordination at a national level for using IPRs for development. The National IP Policy and Implementation Strategy presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to begin the process of adjusting its IP laws to address its development objectives and institutional capacity. The IP Policies of Zimbabwe and South Africa, like those of others in the region, were developed with the assistance of UN agencies and an in-depth analysis of Zimbabwe’s new IP Policy as well as a comparison of the two policies will follow in the next part of this blog series.