Author Archives: tobiasschonwetter

Open Data in Developing Countries: Embedding Open Data Practice

ODDC coverBetween December 2014 and August 2015, members of the IP Unit executed a research project on Open Data in Developing Countries. The World Wide Web Foundation-funded project was part of the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries Phase 2 project, and was titled “Embedding Open Data Practice: Developing indicators on the institutionalisation of open data practice in two African governments”. The final report is now available. The key motivation for conducting the research was that insufficient attention has been paid to the institutional dynamics within governments and how these may be impeding open data practice. In order to address the question of whether open data practice is being embedded, the project undertook a comparison of government open data in South Africa and Kenya.

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IP Unit submits its comments to the DTI concerning the Copyright Amendment Bill

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.36.20 PMOn 16 September, the IP Unit submitted comments regarding the DTI’s Copyright Amendment Bill. Our comments are based on an in-depth collaborative analysis carried out by a group of leading international and domestic experts and scholars working in the field of copyright law. Our comments are geared towards facilitating a balanced, modern, sound, coherent and practically relevant copyright regime that complies with relevant international instruments and, even more importantly, sufficiently incentivises and maximises creativity in South Africa through protection and sufficient access for the benefit of society at large. We commend the DTI on a transparent and open stakeholder consultation process and its desire to tackle the difficult task of amending our Copyright Act. Moreover, we generally welcome the proposed introduction of the more flexible fair use doctrine into South Africa’s copyright legislation. However, in order to function in the intended manner, the entire system of copyright exceptions and limitations needs, in our opinion, to be adjusted as proposed in our submission. Our submission is structured as an outline document – it comments on provisions in the Bill that are of particular importance and concern to us. We do not attempt an exhaustive review of the Copyright Bill but rather aim to highlight selected areas of concern.

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] 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;

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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