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.

IP Unit celebrates Heritage Day

By Lenon Rwizi

In celebration of Heritage Day, the UCT IP Unit hosted a lunch hour seminar on 25 September. The seminar was put together by the Unit’s student research assistants who also acted as the resource persons (Clarence Lakpini, Bontle Monnya, Tanya Magaisa and Lenon Rwizi). The seminar ran under the theme: What is the status of Traditional Knowledge on the continent and in South Africa? Who are the winners and losers? A case study on the Hoodia Gordonii. The event was well attended by students, academics, faculty and staff.

Clarence Lakpini started his presentation by defining and exposing the various forms of intellectual property (IP). He took strides to use visual images of food products, décor, clothing and traditional pharmaceutical products that classify as traditional knowledge (TK) in order to give the audience an appreciation of the subject of the day. Clarence explored the related international, regional and local legal instruments regulating TK. In this connection, he placed particular emphasis on the efforts that have been invested at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and other international fora to reach consensus on an international normative framework for TK. For instance, he pointed out the efforts of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, which made significant strides in developing concepts and draft international instruments (as proposals) for TK protection. Highlighting the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) of 1992 and the Nagoya Protocol, he further demonstrated various efforts that have been invested to harmonize international TK. Continue reading

The Development Agenda: Rethinking the IP System

By Charlene Musiza

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 17.17.31The Development Agenda (DA) is a pro-development reform of the international intellectual property (IP) system. It was initiated by a joint proposal by Argentina and Brazil at the 15th Extraordinary session of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) General Assembly in 2004. The proposal, which called for a development dimension to IP, led to a negotiation process that spanned three years, from 2005 to 2007. The process included submission of over a hundred proposals, and deliberations in the Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Meeting, and the Provisional Committee on Proposals Related to a WIPO Development Agenda (PCDA). Different stakeholders, including government, academia, industry and civil society, participated in the negotiations, and in October 2007 the DA was finally adopted. Broadly speaking, the DA brings reform in two aspects: recalibrating the IP system to bring a balance; and reforming WIPO and making development central in its activities. Continue reading

Multilateral Matters #4: Intellectual Property Norm-Building: Some Reflections on the Interplay between the National and International Dimensions

Photo September 28 2019-2by Wend Wendland, Adjunct Professor, Department of Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town, wend.wendland@uct.ac.za , @WendWendland

Multilateral Matters

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

Key points

It’s under national laws that intellectual property (IP) rights are defined, held, exercised and enforced.

International IP instruments mainly provide for, among other things, the protection of foreign subject matter: for instance and put simply, if country A and country B are parties to the same international IP instrument, this means that IP subject matter from country A that is protected in country A under that country’s national IP laws can also be protected in country B under country B’s IP laws, and vice versa.

International IP instruments are usually developed “bottom up”, which is to say that they build upon and harmonize those existing national regimes that are regarded as successful and representative of widespread practice.

At least when they are first adopted, international IP instruments are often not too detailed and prescriptive, leaving policy space for national implementation.

The negotiations so far in the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (the WIPO IGC), are more “top down” than “bottom up”, at least on traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). This is because national regimes are relatively recent and few in number, and experiences with them so far are inconclusive.

The “top down” nature of the IGC may be one of the reasons that its progress has been slow so far.

While this would be contrary to the way in which most international IP instruments have been developed in the past, perhaps the unique policy, legal and operational challenges associated with TK and TCEs protection requires a dual and coordinated approach that is both “top down” and “bottom up”.

In some respects, the IGC’s draft instruments on TK and TCEs are detailed and prescriptive, not leaving much leeway for national implementation. This may also partially explain the IGC’s slow progress.

However, while leaving policy space for national implementation may be desirable, an international legal instrument should establish standards which mandate effective and consequential protection at the national level. In the absence, so far, of many exemplary national regimes to draw from, this may be the very guidance that national policy-makers seek.


Multilateral negotiations are often aimed at the reaching of an agreement on the contents of an international legal instrument.

International legal instruments can take several forms: they may, for instance, be binding or non-binding. An instrument can, however, never be binding as such, it can only become binding on those countries that either accede to or ratify it.

Non-binding instruments include guidelines, recommendations, protocols, model provisions, declarations and the like. Some of the best known international legal instruments are, in fact, non-binding, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the IP area, member countries of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have adopted several joint recommendations related to trademarks1 and standards, in the form of recommendations, on industrial property information and documentation.2

As these and many other examples show, even non-binding instruments can exert considerable influence.

The purpose of this blog post is to offer some reflections on the respective roles of and interaction between national and international legal instruments in the IP field.

Continue reading

IP Unit co-hosts Professor Ruth Okediji’s seminar on Why Decolonisation of IP Matters

image3On 8 August, the IP Unit had the immense pleasure of welcoming highly acclaimed Harvard Professor Ruth Okediji – Co-Director of the Berkman Klein Center – for a seminar on why the decolonisation of intellectual property matters. The seminar at UCT was co-hosted by the IP Unit, the South African Research Chair in Intellectual Property, Innovation and Development, Recreate South Africa and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) at American University in Washington, DC. The well-attended event was opened by the law faculty’s dean Professor Danwood Chirwa, and Professor Okediji’s talk was preceded by remarks from PIJIP’s Professor Sean Flynn. A brief write-up about the event can be found on the SARChI chair’s website, and a video of the proceedings is available here.

Intellectual Property and Innovation for National Development: Lessons from South Africa

By Dr. Desmond Oriakhogba

Afronomics pixPhase 2 negotiations towards the objectives of the AfCFTA, which will include Intellectual property (IP) rights, will afford “an opportunity for Africa to craft a new path for knowledge governance” and “redefine the agenda for negotiation of IP issues” in future trade agreements. However, as African countries go into the negotiations, it is important for them to first clarify their respective “fundamental priorities for IP” and development (Ncube, et al). To do so, African countries will require a well-articulated IP policy based on their individual national development objectives. Such policy should articulate goals and strategies that will enable them to harness the gains of IP and innovation for their respective development in the fast-growing, technology-driven, global economy.

In an article for AfronomicsLAW, UCT’s IP-Units Dr Desmond Oriakhogba briefly highlights some key policy and legal steps South Africa has adopted to take advantage of the gains of IP and innovation for its national development. the article also draws lessons from South Africa’s experience that IP negotiations in the AfCFTA can benefit from.

Report: International Conference on Intellectual Property and Development – How to Benefit from the IP System

By Charlene Musiza

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 14.46.03On 20 May 2019, the second International Conference on Intellectual Property (IP) and Development was held at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland. A diverse crowd from industry, academia, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and students attended the event and some participated via the webcast. The panels, comprising of experts, discussed various topics in relation to IP and development. Discussion in the panels are summarised below.

How the IP System Benefits Innovation

The first panel, made up of Dr. Fernanda de Negri, Professor Marzenna Weresa and Professor Dominique Foray, discussed how the IP system benefits innovation. Dr. Negri spoke about some factors and conditions for innovation, and gave a historical perspective, and the empirical literature on IP and innovation that highlighted the important of patents for pharmaceutical and chemical innovations. According to Dr. Negri patent systems have an important and a positive influence on innovation in home countries. She stated that IP rights had positive effects on innovation in developed countries but the results for developing countries were not so clear. On the other hand, according to her, innovation required a broad sector of conditions, for example qualified people to innovate, infrastructure and good economic environment. Continue reading

Empowering Rural Craft Women Through Social Entrepreneurship and Open Inclusive Innovation

My Engagement with the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

As part of my on-going project as a Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QEScholar) with Open AIR, I have spent the past three months on a research placement with the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust (HACT). This placement has significantly reshaped the focus of my research, investigating the economically empowering and impactful work being undertaken by the HACT for poor, rural Zulu women artisans.

Continue reading

The 38th Session of WIPO-SCCR and South African Copyright Reform

Screen Shot 2019-05-20 at 12.05.58

Ville Oksanen, CC BY-SA 2.0

By Desmond O. Oriakhogba


The 38th session of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (WIPO-SCCR) recently took place from 1 to 5 April 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. As gleaned from its agenda, the session was convened to continue the negotiations among WIPO member states towards formulating an international normative instrument for copyright limitations and exceptions (L&Es), that goes beyond the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh VIP Treaty). Thus, the session placed particular attention on L&Es for persons with disabilities (other than blind, visually impaired and print disabilities), libraries, archives and museums; for educational and research institutions. Continue reading

Upcoming International Conference on Intellectual Property and Development

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 14.46.03


On 20 May 2019 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will host the second International Conference on Intellectual Property (IP) and Development. The theme for this year’s edition is ‘How to Benefit from the IP System’. The conference offers a platform to share knowledge and experience on IP and development. It draws speakers with expertise in different areas of IP from industry, government and academia. The issues to be discussed include how the IP system benefits innovation, creativity and global issues and the challenges and opportunities of the IP system in the world today. These topics will be discussed in four panels moderated by deputy and assistant directors of the different sectors at WIPO. The Keynote Speaker is H.E. Ms. Amina C. Mohamed, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage in Kenya. Registration for the international conference is available here and a live webcast will be available for those who cannot attend the conference in person.

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

CC-BY_iconThe written content on this website is, unless otherwise indicated, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence. [This does not apply to third-party content, eg from RSS feeds, and content in the publications section.] Your attribution must include a link to this website.

IP Unit logo