Author Archives: tobiasschonwetter

South African Government Conference Reveals Views On Draft Copyright Bill

ipwatch(by Linda Daniels for IP Watch, published under a CC BY NC SA licence)

Stakeholders from various positions of influence in the realm of intellectual property – including government – put a fine tooth comb through the South African Copyright Amendment Bill at a consultative conference called by the Department of Trade and Industry yesterday.

The one-day conference held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 August was called to further inform the refinement process of the bill. The Copyright Amendment Bill was published in the government gazette earlier this month and this opened a 30-day public consultation process. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) subsequently extended that deadline to 16 September.

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Conference Looks At Public Interest In South Africa’s Draft Copyright Bill

ipwatch(by Linda Daniels for IP Watch, published under a CC BY NC SA licence)

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – A conference here this week elicited a robust debate amongst intellectual property stakeholders in South Africa about the objectives of the far-reaching draft Copyright Amendment Bill. The Internet Rights, Cultural Development and Balancing Features in South African Copyright Reform conference was held on 11 August in Pretoria. The one day conference brought together activists, law practitioners, academics and government representatives to unpack the draft amendment bill which was published in the government gazette three weeks ago (IPW, Africa, 28 July 2015). The publishing of the bill opened a 30-day window period for public comments. Tobias Schonwetter, director of the Intellectual Property Unit at the University of Cape Town and regional coordinator for Creative Commons, opened the conference by emphasising that the meeting was focused on the public interest of the bill. “The subject matter of copyright law is knowledge. It is cultural material. Any IP is not an end in itself. The purpose is much more utilitarian,” he said. “How can we retain balance of rights holder and user interests especially in the digital age?” Schonwetter added of the bill: “the general direction is right.” Macdonald Netshitenzhe, chief director of policy and legislation at the Department of Trade and Industry, in his opening address, sketched, amongst other things, the trajectory of the bill.

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Internet Rights, Cultural Development and Balancing Features in South African Copyright Reform

IMG_8956On 27 July 2015, South Africa’s Department of Industry (DTI) published the Copyright Amendment Bill 2015 for public comment. Interested parties have 30 days from the date of publication to submit written comments to the DTI. The IP Unit will submit comments before that deadline. In order to inform relevant stakeholders about the key elements of the Bill and to engage with government officials on issues addressed in the Bill (incl. fair use, educational exceptions, orphan works, improved access for the disabled and anti-circumvention provisions), the IP Unit – together with UNISA, Wits University, the American University Washington College of Law Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Creative Commons South Africa, and the Cultural Industries Legal and Advisory Centre – hosted a one-day workshop on 11 August 2015 at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria. This timely and highly productive meeting of approximately 50 invited participants was facilitated mainly in an open roundtable format in which various segments of stakeholders and of government participated in open and frank discussions of the bill’s impacts in South Africa, especially on consumers, small-scale creators (such as independent and documentary filmmakers), libraries, educators, people with disabilities and the general public interest. The meeting was supported by Google and the Ford Foundation. The agenda of the meeting is available here. Among other things, the programme included addresses by the DTI’s Macdonald Netshithenze and Google’s Fred von Lohmann.

Natural Justice seeks a Voluntary Intern

naturaljusticeNatural Justice – a Cape Town-based NGO – is seeking a Voluntary Intern to assist in the implementation of the ‘Empowering Indigenous Peoples and Knowledge Systems Related to Climate Change and Intellectual Property Rights’ project. This is a Participatory Action Research project in partnership with the IP Unit and Indiana University’s Department of Gender Studies. It is a project of the global Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSDNet). Individuals who are available, full-time or part-time, for periods during August-November 2015 should apply.

More information is available here.

To apply, please email your CV and covering letter clearly explaining your suitability to
cath [at] naturaljustice.co.za with the subject line ‘Voluntary Intern’ by 31st July 2015

Two new OpenUCT Guides on open licensing and impact measurement

OpenUCTStickers_edcomp_icon_0This month, OpenUCT published two new guides on open licensing and impact measurement. The first guide, ‘Open Content Licensing: A Three-Step Guide for Academics‘, aims at enabling individual academics to make informed and purposeful decisions around licensing their work in line with international open access principles. Based on the framework of open content licensing – a legitimate, internationally-recognised legal practice located within the boundaries of copyright law – it has been designed to protect the author against unauthorised forms of content exploitation in the digital realm, and is beneficial to the global user community in that it limits bureaucracy associated with obtaining permissions for re-use. The second guide, ‘Measuring Impact: A Five-Step Guide for Scholarly Units‘, provides five practical steps to professionalise scholarly communication activity, expand current approaches around impact measurement, and generate new forms of usage data. It is is aimed at scholarly units (i.e., research units, academic departments and faculties), but can be adapted for an individual scholar or institutional approach.

 

New discussion paper: A Differentiated Approach to Plant Variety Protection in Africa

brampostSeveral African countries and regional organisations are investing in the establishment of a plant variety protection system modelled on the UPOV 1991 Convention, which currently provides the strongest, international standard for plant variety protection. Whereas proponents argue that strong protection of breeder’s rights will incentivise breeding and the introduction of new varieties for farmers, opponents fear that the proposed legal framework is unsuitable for African countries as it may hamper traditional farming practices of using and exchanging farm-saved seed. These informal or farmer-managed seed systems supply more than 80% of the total food crop seed used by farmers. The challenge for African countries is to strike a balance between protecting the interests of breeders through the incentive function of plant breeder’s rights for the commercial market, and the leeway that needs to be provided to smallholder farmers that depend on informal sources for their seed security and survival. And to do so in a practical and legally enforceable manner.

A new discussion paper by Dr. Bram de Jonge and Peter Munyi explores how African countries can do so and proposes a differentiated approach to plant variety protection, which sets different levels of protection for different crops in relation to different categories of farmers, in order to support both commercial and farmer-managed seed systems. Readers are invited to comment on the proposed approach by sharing their opinions and suggestions. The comments will be responded to by the authors, and readers are invited to join in the discussions. Comments and suggestions can be posted here.

Certificate Short Course in IP Law, 15 – 17 July 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 14.41.38 PMThe UCT IP Unit, in collaboration with the Anton Mostert Chair of IP Law at Stellenbosch University, presents a certificate short course in IP law from 15 – 17 July 2015 in Stellenbosch. The short course is aimed at non-legal or non-IP practitioners in business, commerce, engineering, arts or sciences, or indeed anyone with an interest in this crucial field of law. The course is specifically designed to provide students with an introduction to this field of law and its practical application, and has no admission or examination requirements. Presented by leaders in the field of IP law from both Universities, the course promises to be both exciting and rewarding while equipping students with a sound understanding of how relevant IP is to every endeavour. To this end, the course will include specific reference to aspects of IP and IP law relating to and derived from electronic commerce, communication and digital work. This certificate programme is accredited at NQF level 6 by Stellenbosch University’s Division: Short Courses and a certificate of attendance from Stellenbosch University will be awarded.

More information is available here.

To register for the course complete the registration form or contact:
Andrea Blaauw +27 (0)21 650 5413; andrea.blaauw@uct.ac.za

Beyond Biopiracy

(First published in UCT’s Monday Monthly, Supplement: Faculty Focus, Faculty of Law)

Early stone tools fashioned by our hominid ancestors in sub-Saharan Africa show that innovation based on local knowledge has old roots in the continent. This early African innovation continued in agriculture, metallurgy, medicine and textiles; and even in building techniques, design and material. But Africa has learnt some hard lessons in properly managing its intellectual property. An often-cited case from the 1970s describes how the National Cancer Institute in the US invested in Maytenus buchananii, a plant that grows in the Simba Hills of Kenya. The institute had learnt what the local Digo communities have known for years: the plant is good for treating cancers. But the material was collected and traded without the Digo knowing – and without any acknowledgement of their knowledge, or reciprocal financial benefit. The Intellectual (IP) Unit, based in the law faculty, advocates for development-oriented intellectual property laws and policies in Southern Africa. At the forefront is an initiative the unit coleads with the University of Ottawa’s law faculty: the Open African Innovation Research & Training (Open AIR) project. Open AIR has hubs in Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya, and teams in 14 African countries, including Tunisia, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and Botswana. At the coalface is UCT’s Dr Tobias Schonwetter, who works to ensure knowledge and innovation – and the communities who create this capital – are appropriately protected through guidance as well as policy and research development. One example of this can be found in South Africa’s Kukula healers, the traditional health practitioners of Bushbuckridge who hold valuable knowledge about medicinal plants; knowledge passed down through generations. Custom doesn’t allow them to share all this knowledge (some secrets are kept in families and groups), but there’s much they are willing to share with the broader community; a pooling of knowledge for collaboration, protection and benefit-sharing.

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IP Unit submits comments regarding DST’s IKS Bill

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.37.42 PMOn 19 May 2015, the IP Unit, together with colleagues affiliated with Indiana University in the U.S. and Cape Town-based Natural Justice, submitted to the Department of Science and Technology comments (click here) regarding the Draft Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill. The Bill was summarised here.

Our approach is to engage with the Protection, Promotion, Development, and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill (“IKS Bill”) in a sympathetic and constructive yet critical manner. Our submission is structured as an outline document – it comments on a few provisions in the IKS Bill that are of particular importance and concern to indigenous communities. We do not attempt an exhaustive review of the IKS Bill but rather aim to highlight certain areas of concern. We hope this will generate a broader discussion into the contours of the IKS Bill as a whole. Among other things, we welcome the Bill’s intention to establish a sui generis approach for the protection of indigenous knowledge. This, in our view, is a positive change from alternative protections given to indigenous knowledge systems through the somewhat unfitting framework of intellectual property rights as evidenced by the most recent Intellectual Property Law Amendment Act 2013. When legislating in this area, emphasis must be on appropriately defining indigenous communities. Furthermore, lawmakers should generally be mindful that adding additional layers of IP or IP-like protection to hitherto unprotected subject matter also creates societal costs through further reducing a crucial and freely available knowledge resource – the public domain. As a vital engine for innovation, entrepreneurship and development in every country, the public domain is deserving of special protection. That being said, we are aware that indigenous knowledge has been historically characterised as in the public domain in order to appropriate such knowledge. Given such histories, the IKS Bill raises concerns over how to meet the interests of indigenous communities and attend to the interests of third parties to access such knowledge. One way to address these tensions is to put emphasis on developing a robust set of exceptions and limitations.

New article in Nature Biotechnology: A solution to the controversy on plant variety protection in Africa

A new article by Dr. Bram de Jonge, Dr. Niels P. Louwaars and Professor Julian Kinderlerer addresses the issue that African countries are fast-tracking the protection of plant varieties by embracing the 1991 Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The West-African Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle joined UPOV as its fifth African member in 2014. Around the same time, UPOV assessed a draft legislation of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization to be in conformity with its 1991 Act, paving the way for this East-African organization to become a UPOV member as well. The Southern African Development Community is currently drafting similar legislation. Together, these regional organizations represent 42 African countries. These decisions at the diplomatic level create controversy regarding possible negative impacts on smallholder farmers’ seed systems. We show in this commentary that African countries, by seizing the opportunity to implement a broad interpretation of one of the UPOV 1991 provisions, can overcome the controversy and establish a PVP system that supports commercial seed systems without negatively affecting smallholders.

Nature Biotechnology 33(5), pp. 487–488, May 2015, http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v33/n5/full/nbt.3213.html