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UCT’s Intellectual Property 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, taking into account the needs of society, rights owners and consumers. Our vision is to be a leading voice in realising a continent where there is an open exchange about African ideas, creativity and innovation, in pursuit of sustainable development. We promote research, teaching, and learning in IP through holistic, balanced and open approaches, in order to stimulate innovation that drives development. Our core values are integrity, inclusiveness and relevance. We believe that South Africa has a leadership role in defining IP challenges in emerging and developing countries. We develop our programs through dialogue, research, debate and capacity building.

Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Intellectual Property Law

Picture1The Intellectual Property Unit (IP Unit) at the Department of Commercial Law, University of Cape Town invites applications for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the area of Intellectual Property Law. The selected fellow will become part of a new project: One Ocean Hub.

Scope and Purpose

This fellowship is intended to support the One Ocean Hub project by contributing towards the understanding of various intellectual property aspects related to the ocean exploration, exploitation and management. Continue reading

South Africa Creators, Access Advocates Rally To Support Copyright Bill And Dispel Myths

by William New – first published for under Creative Commons Attribution-4.0 International License.

A broad coalition of creators and access to knowledge advocates have petitioned the President of South Africa to urgently sign the Copyright Amendment Bill before him. The petition ( is endorsed by organizations representing over half a million South African creators, teachers, people with disabilities and others who rely on copyright access and protection. It calls for the President to sign the Bill “without delay,” including to enact into copyright law “a transformative vision for a more equal and just society.” The petition is the latest step in a decades long campaign to enact development- focused copyright reform that is sensitive to South Africa’s particular social and economic context.

Decolonizing Copyright

At issue is the 44-page Copyright Amendment Bill (as at Feb 2019) (before National Council of Provinces).

South Africa has spent over a decade in a sometimes arduous process of developing a Bill to improve and update its national copyright law to help local creators benefit from their works and encourage access to works to spark creativity and serve public interests. The original aim of the process was to address the situation in which famous South African artists “die as paupers” because publishers, labels and other intermediaries are able to extract most of the rent from uses of their works without paying creators adequately.

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The Video Assistant Referee (VAR): The Patent-Protected Technology Changing the Face of Football

IPday2019-FB-banner-Eby Clarence Lakpini

It is that day of the year again! The World Intellectual Property (IP) day is being celebrated the world over.  According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the theme of this year’s celebration is “Reach for Gold: IP and Sports.” We are excited about this year’s theme as it affords us the opportunity to reflect on the role of IP for the development of sports, especially the game of football. IP generally deals with “creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; symbols, names, and images used in commerce.” There are several types of IP that impact on the sporting world, among which are: copyright, trademarks, patents, designs, broadcasting rights and trade secrets. A healthy and fair balance between incentivising innovation and enabling access to its fruits is what IP ultimately seeks to achieve. This short blog post examines how IP, through patents, has impacted the game of football. The specific focus will be on the effect of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, introduced during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, on the traditional footballing practices.

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IP Unit is looking for student research assistants as of 1 April 2019

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.36.20 PMThe IP Unit is looking for outstanding LL.B. and LL.M. students to join our team as student research assistants for 6 months, beginning 1 April 2019. Student research assistant duties will span the scholarly spectrum and can include: conducting literature reviews; creating surveys and other tools; collecting, managing and analysing data; cowriting peer reviewed articles and media materials; co-presenting findings; and managing the activities of a unit within a broader organisational structure. Student research assistants will also be encouraged and supported to conduct their own original research, under the direction and mentorship of academics based at UCT and/or other participating faculty, and could receive authorial or co-authorial credit. These activities will build academic skills like research methods, theory building, and scholarly publishing. Student research assistants will also have administrative duties within Open AIR in order to help build highly transferable professional skills such as leadership and teamwork, project management, and community engagement. Student research assistants are expected to work in the IP Unit shared office space for up to 35 hours per month at an hourly rate of R95.

If you are interested in applying for this opportunity, please provide – via email to Open AIR Project Manager Nan Warner on – a curriculum vitae, copies of your qualification certificates and a covering letter outlining your qualifications/experience and how they would support our work. The deadline for applications is 28 February 2019. The full advertisement can be found here.

Multilateral Matters #3: Copyrighting Culture? Challenges and opportunities regarding the international protection of traditional cultural expressions

Photo September 28 2019-2

by Wend Wendland, Adjunct Professor, Department of Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town,, @WendWendland

Multilateral Matters

An occasional blog on international developments related to intellectual property, innovation, development and public policy


Key points

The term “traditional cultural expressions” (TCEs)[1] refers to the intangible elements of an Indigenous People’s or local community’s cultural heritage, such as music, art, symbols, narratives and performances.

For reasons well documented elsewhere[2], TCEs as such are treated as “public domain” and not fully protected by the conventional intellectual property (IP) system.

There are divergent views as to whether or not TCEs as such should receive IP-similar protection and, if so, to what extent.

To some degree, contemporary versions and adaptations of TCEs can be protected using existing IP systems. Depending on one’s policy objectives, these protections might be adequate.

Most countries believe, however, that a new “sui generis”[3] system is needed.

Multilateral negotiations underway at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are aimed at reaching agreement on an international legal instrument that would provide balanced and effective protection for TCEs.

The quest for the international protection of TCEs is significant. However, these negotiations are complex and slow-moving.

The TCEs puzzle is emblematic of the providential IP question: how to regulate the production, ownership and sharing of knowledge in ways that balances control and access, excluding and sharing, and competing and collaborating.[4]

In strikingly similar ways to the very newest of technologies such as artificial intelligence, TCEs interrogate long-held understandings of core copyright concepts such as “authorship”, “originality” and “public domain”.

In the face of greater prioritization in IP policymaking of open access, exceptions and limitations, and a more expansive and resilient public domain, one may ask whether TCEs protection is an idea whose time has passed.

Hopefully not: international agreement that TCEs deserve some form of IP protection would be eye-openingly significant for Indigenous Peoples and local communities and for international IP policymaking. With political will and flexibility on all sides, pragmatic and win-win outcomes are possible.


The trademarking by Disney of the Swahili phrase “hakuna matata[5], the copying of Australian Aboriginal art[6], the adaptation by Simon and Garfunkel of the folk song El Condor Pasa[7], and the copying by Louis Vuitton of Basotho blanket designs[8], are a sampling of the cases cited when conversations turn towards the misappropriation of TCEs.

Indeed, the appropriations in each of these cases seem intestinally wrong (if not unlawful, surely?).

As a result, there have been efforts over many decades to agree on international rules for the protection of TCEs.

But these efforts are proving complicated, because the cultural, economic, trade and technological issues at stake are sensitive, inter-related and impactful.

Most of this work takes place within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and WIPO. UNESCO’s focus is, however, different to that of WIPO: while UNESCO addresses preservation and safeguarding (such as combatting the erosion of intangible heritage over time and reviving disappearing cultural traditions and practices), WIPO addresses legal protection, which is the protection of intangible cultural heritage against unauthorized copying, adaptation and commercial use, in other words, IP-like protection.

The focus of this blog is on the IP issues, and not on questions of safeguarding and preservation. Nor does it directly address the IP issues associated with the restitution of cultural properties[9] or “cultural appropriation”.[10]

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CopyrightX:UCT applications now open!

copyxThe IP Unit is pleased to again present a CopyrightX affiliated course in 2019. CopyrightX:UCT will be administered by UCT Law@Work: Professional Development Project of the Faculty of Law, UCT.

CopyrightX:UCT is a member of the growing CopyrightX Community, a network of affiliated courses offered by several universities and other institutions between January and April of each year. Participants in these courses examine and assess the ways in which law seeks to stimulate and regulate creative expression. CopyrightX was developed by Professor William Fisher at Harvard Law School; it is hosted and supported by the HarvardX distance-learning initiative and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. A list of the other participating organisations and additional information concerning this educational initiative is available at

CopyrightX:UCT consists of the Harvard pre-recorded lectures, accompanied by reading materials relating to U.S. and South African copyright law. Eight contact sessions will take place on Wednesdays between 13 February 2019 and 1 May 2019. The classroom seminars will discuss the pre-recorded lectures and will more closely analyse South African Copyright law and the issues faced. In 2019, we are planning to simultaneously deliver lectures online as webinars. Those who cannot attend the contact sessions in person, but want to participate in these webinars are invited to also register, subject to confirmation of online content delivery in early 2019. The seminars will be taught by Dr. Tobias Schonwetter.

The course is free of charge. Applicants must provide a motivation of approximately 400 words stating why they want to participate in CopyrightX:UCT, and how they plan on utilising their knowledge afterwards. Furthermore, applicants must make a commitment to actively participate in the course and attend the weekly seminars at the University of Cape Town.

Applications are open between now and 25 January 2019.  Successful applicants will be notified by 1 February 2019.

For more info and to apply click here.

Promoting Education Rights In South African Copyright Reform

Image from iOS

(by Eve Gray and Desmond Oriakhogba – first published for Intellectual Property Watch under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

The publishing industry is making a mad dash to defeat South Africa’s adoption of a fair use rights in Parliament on Wednesday. Their latest effort includes an alarmist petition being circulated among authors.  It is interesting to note that, while one of the most persistent and loud complaints in these protests has been that the drafting of the new legislation was badly handled, our perception, along with a number of experienced observers in the process, has been that the level of discussion and debate; the degree of participation and engagement of government representatives; and the consensus on the needs to be addressed, was of a higher standard and the debate much better informed than in previous such attempts at reform over the past decades.  It should also be noted that, while it is true that international publishers might have much to lose in the new law, local publishers, authors and students have much to gain. It is time to lower the heat and concentrate on the facts and context of what is before Parliament.

As for the persistent complaints about the proposal to adopt a fair use regime, rather than persisting with Fair Dealing, it needs to be noted that in a digital age, this is increasingly becoming the default position internationally, as digital media demand flexibility and openness to new developments.

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Multilateral Matters #2: Biopiracy on the high seas? Countries launch negotiation towards a new international legally binding instrument on marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction (Part One)

Photo September 28 2019-2


by Wend Wendland, Adjunct Professor, Department of Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town,

Multilateral Matters

An occasional blog on international developments related to intellectual property, innovation, development and public policy

Key points

Countries have begun to negotiate a new international legally binding instrument on marine genetic resources in the high seas.

The negotiation is an opportunity for countries to re-think existing frameworks which regulate access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources.

Countries have divergent views on if and how IP issues should be addressed in the new instrument.

Developing countries have an interest in the establishment of mechanisms for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from research into marine genetic resources and for the transfer of marine technologies. IP issues are relevant in both cases. 

What is the issue?

International law already regulates access to and fair and equitable benefit-sharing in genetic resources located within the territories of countries.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, its Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, 2010, the Food and Agricultural Organization’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2001, and, the World Health Organization’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, 2011 are some of the main international instruments that currently regulate access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources.

However, it’s not clear what legal regime applies to marine genetic resources (MGRs) in areas beyond national jurisdiction – such as in the high seas and the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdictions.

Member countries of the United Nations (UN) have therefore begun to develop a new international legally binding instrument on MGRs beyond national jurisdiction.  This negotiation is taking place under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS).

This negotiation touches on a panoply of issues – realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, poverty alleviation, the reduction of hunger, mitigating climate change, biodiversity conservation, the improvement of health, the “Blue Economy” and so on.

This blog post focuses on one aspect of this process:  the intellectual property (IP) dimension, and its relationship with two issues that are of particular interest to developing countries:  fair and equitable benefit-sharing and the transfer of marine technologies.

As the negotiation has only just started – there is not even a zero draft text of the instrument yet – this first post simply sketches the main issues and navigates the broad contours of the process so far.  It will be followed by updates as the process evolves.

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Multilateral Matters #1: Achieving Positive Outcomes in International Intellectual Property Negotiations

Photo September 28 2019-2
by Wend Wendland, Adjunct Professor, Department of Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town,

The Multilateral Matters is an occasional blog on international developments related to intellectual property, innovation, development and public policy.

Multilateral institutions matter because that is where international rule-making takes place. And, multilateral institutions are useful, especially for smaller and less powerful developing countries, because they are rules-based and every state, no matter its size, has a voice.

However, in reality, it is profoundly challenging for developing countries to engage effectively in international negotiations and achieve their preferred policy outcomes.

How effective a state, or group of states (such as the African Group) is in participating in multilateral negotiations depends on a number of factors, such as, clearly, the issues at stake and each individual country’s interests, priorities, resources, and capacity, but also the role of regional organizations, the potential for coalitions and, what Nelson refers to as the relevant “institutional system(s)” – meaning the number and nature of the multilateral institutions that are active in relation to the issue at stake.

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In a globalised and networked world, what is the unique value a university can bring? Introducing Open Knowledge Institutions


By Lucy Montgomery and Cameron Neylon

(This article was first published by LSE Impact Blog)

Eve Gray, a researcher at the IP Unit, has contributed to the writing of the book Open Knowledge Institutions. A group of researchers met earlier this year and a first draft of the book was published within a week – a remarkable feat to say the least.

Digital ubiquity has disrupted the traditional university model. The internet has shifted the balance of a tension between control and disorder in knowledge production, with many of the opportunities the web brings leading directly to many of the challenges we now need to address. Lucy Montgomery and Cameron Neylon advocate for the idea of universities as Open Knowledge Institutions, which would support and provide spaces for the world’s creative diversity to contribute to a common stock of global knowledge. This means reinventing some of our ideas about what university is, or should be, while also recognising that this change has to be an evolution, not a revolution.

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