The University of Cape Town’s Intellectual Property (IP) 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. We aim at creating a leading IP programme in Africa that translates cutting edge research into excellent teaching and increases the number of highly-skilled African IP experts. Important issues range from the way in which we access and share knowledge to strategies how to commercialise inventions and avoid misappropriation. IP is a key determinant of human development, economic growth and competitiveness; and IP rules impact on various public policy areas including health, research and development, bio-diversity, clean technologies, food security, and education.

South African Intellectual Property Law Journal (2014)

(By Caroline Ncube, Reposted from Afro-IP)

23094532_IPLJ_1.png.400x400_q85_subsampling-2 betterThe second volume of the SA Intellectual Property Law Journal, published by Juta Law and edited by Lee-Ann Tong & Caroline Ncube is now available.

Juta Law is a RoMEO white publisher and the full length articles are not immediately available online to non-subscribers. Some articles will be available after June 2015 via institutional repositories affiliated with the authors, where they are available.

For more information:
See here for Juta Law’s copyright & self-archiving policies
See here for purchase and subscription
Relevant Institutional Repositories: UCT, Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria, University of the Western Cape

Continue reading

The African Scholars for Knowledge Justice (ASK Justice) Project

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 16.13.15 PMThe IP Unit will shortly commence a new 2 year research project, supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. The African Scholars for Knowledge Justice (ASK Justice) Project seeks to contribute to positive policy change to increase access to medicines and access to knowledge. The project sets out to build a strong network of engaged faculty members at Southern and East African universities who through research, teaching and public voice from a human rights perspective influence current and future Intellectual Property law and policy reform processes in Africa. A better understanding of the under-explored interface of Human Rights, Intellectual Property and the Public Interest is expected to lead to positive policy change, and integrating this understanding into mainstream teaching and research will make teaching and research in this area more sustainable. The project will be carried out by participating faculty from the Universities of Nairobi, Strathmore, Makerere, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town. Andrew Rens and Dr. Tobias Schonwetter are Principal Investigators for the project and Nan Warner will be the project manager.

New IP Unit Project: Institutionalising Open Data Practice in Africa

ODDC2As 2014 comes to a close, we have just commenced a new exciting research project: Institutionalising Open Data Practice in AfricaAs governments and other institutions open up vast and complex datasets the expectation is that there will be widespread benefit as a consequence. There are, however, several stumbling blocks in the path of extracting the benefits of open data. This project focuses on the organisational dynamics that have the propensity to prevent open data practice from being embedded in organisations. With its focus on developing country contexts, the project aims to contribute to our theoretical understanding of change processes in organisations and provide insight into the socio-technical conditions under which open data initiatives in public agencies are likely to succeed. This project will develop a set of indicators which will gauge the extent to which open data practice is being embedded in a sustainable manner in public organisations. These organisations will be selected at both national and city level in South Africa and Kenya. Central to the indicators developed will be the licensing of open datasets as evidence of a normative acceptance at multiple organisational levels of the value of open data. Dr. Tobias Schonwetter serves as the project’s director and Michelle Willmers and Francois van Schalkwyk are key researchers; Michelle Willmers is also the project manager. The project is a collaborative undertaking between the World Wide Web Foundation and UCT, with seed funding from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

High level round-table meeting on Plant Variety Protection in Africa

ISSD The IP Unit is hosting a high level round-table meeting on Plant Variety Protection in Africa in collaboration with the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Africa Program and Wageningen University. ISSD aims to promote agricultural development by recognizing and building upon the diversity of seed systems in a given country. The meeting is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Several countries and regions in Africa are in the process of developing and implementing Plant Variety Protection (PVP) systems in response to various policy goals. However this has not been without social debate because of concerns about the impact on informal seed systems, which still is the predominant source of seed for smallholder farmers in Africa. Plant variety rights are an important instrument for incentivising breeding in the formal and above all the commercial seed systems, their impact on informal seed systems is disputed.

The goal of the meeting is to encourage a free and frank discussion among key stakeholders of these issues including key components of a differentiated PVP system which incorporates the various seed systems and supports commercial, food security and smallholder farmers’ interests. The round-table meeting will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 27-28 November 2014.


CopyrightX:UCT applications now open

The IP Unit will run a CopyrightX course at UCT in early 2015. CopyrightX: UCT will be administered by UCT Law@Work: Professional Development Protect 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. Through a combination of pre-recorded lectures, readings, seminars, live webcasts, and online discussions, the participants in these courses examine and assess the ways in which law seeks to stimulate and regulate creative expression. Some of the conversations enabled by CopyrightX are small and limited to students in a single course, while others are global and engage the students in all of the affiliated institutions. 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 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. Weekly class-room seminars will be held every Thursday from 18h00 to 19h30 at the University of Cape Town, starting on 12 February 2015 and ending on 23 April 2015. These seminars will be taught by Dr. Tobias Schonwetter . Seminars consist of discussions of lectures and will more closely analyse copyright issues from a South African perspective.

Admission to the South African affiliate course is free. Everyone residing in South Africa can apply, provided they can attend the face-to-face lectures on Thursdays at UCT. However, the number of course participants is limited, and registrations will be capped at 30. Applications are considered based on a short motivation letter. Application is open between now and 30 November 2014. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application no later than 15 December 2014.

For more info and to apply click here.

Open Access Week 2014 event: Open Access and Copyright seminar

openaccessDr. Tobias Schonwetter, the Director of UCT’s Intellectual Property Unit, will be giving a seminar on Open Access and Copyright during OpenUCT‘s series of Open Access week events.

In March 2014 UCT’s Council adopted an Open Access Policy to preserve the scholarly work of UCT scholars and to make this scholarship discoverable, visible and freely available online to anyone who seeks it. The policy requires, among other things, employees and students who produce original scholarly output to deposit a version of their publications into UCT’s Institutional Repository and it generally supports the publication of materials under open Creative Commons licences to promote the sharing of knowledge. The seminar will briefly explain the general concept behind copyright protection and open access and address some of the issues arising from the practical implementation of the policy. Moreover, the session seeks to explain how open licensing works.

Date: 23 October 2014
Time 1-2 pm
Venue: University of Cape Town, Leslie Commerce 2A

Open Access Week events are open to the public.

The meaning of ‘impact’: prestige or relevance for developing world research?

EveGray(by Eve Gray, originally published on the Open Access in the Developing World blog)

The impact factor under fire

The release of the 2014 Impact Factor Report was being awaited, as usual, with some anticipation by journal publishers and researchers to see who is in and who is out in this particular club this year. Yet this comes at a time when there is an ever-rising tide of contestation about its value as an analytic tool for research effectiveness in a radically changing research environment, and especially in the developing world. Among many others, Stephen Curry went viral in 2012 with his stinging dismissal of the IF as ‘statistically illiterate’.

The Impact Factor and the developing world

There is an interesting circularity about the impact story in the developing world. With the expansion of the number of developing country journals in the index, the inclusion of the Latin American open access journal platform, SciELO in the Wed of Science (the Thomson Reuters citation indexes), it would seem that there is a courtship going on in which the developing world is being drawn into the journal impact tables. Continue reading

WTO Public Forum 2014: Formal IP System Does Not Fit Africa, LDCs Need Technological Capacity, Speakers Say

(by Catherine Saez, first published in IP Watch (Geneva))

TobiasWTOOn the last day of the World Trade Organization Public Forum, a panel discussed the relationship between intellectual property and innovation in Africa, in particular in the informal sector. The formal IP system does not seems to fit, and least-developed countries need a sound technological base to be able to use the IP system. Separately, a European Patent Office study shows that Africa has a vast yet untapped potential in renewable energy. The annual WTO Public Forum took place from 1-3 October with the theme “Why trade matters to everyone.” The panel was organised by the African Innovation Research and Training project (Open AIR), the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), and the European Patent Office (EPO).

‘We Just Create Differently’

According to Tobias Schönwetter, director of the Intellectual Property Unit, Faculty of Law at University of Cape Town (South Africa), and co-principal investigator at Open AIR project, more and more people realise that IP rights by definition are monopolies, and inherently anti-competitive. There is increasing scepticism to the “one size-fits-all approach,” which was promoted by IP regimes, and through international treaties, he said. It is important to take into account the differences of the African context as compared to other regions, he said. In particular, he said the Open Air project took into account the extreme diversity of the African continent. Africa has unique innovation and entrepreneurial dynamics. “We just create differently, we just innovate differently,” he said, and that might not be well covered by the current IP instruments. The project, which covered 19 case studies, created a wide network of IP innovation and entrepreneurial specialists in Africa, he said. A further foresight scenario exercise was undertaken, taking the results of the research and translating that into what it means for Africa in the next 30 years, to be presented to policymakers, he explained. The overarching conclusions of the project, he said, is that the African context seems to be predisposed to innovation of necessity or accidental innovation, not so much focused on frontier or high technology innovation. Orthodox categories of IP often remain ill-equipped to deal with innovation originating from Africa. “They just don’t fit,” he said, and the infrastructure for research and IP management is often poor. A recommendation to policymakers would be to “avoid policy mistakes” and consider that while there is really no IP policy in Africa yet, although it is starting, sometimes no IP policy is better than having the wrong IP policy to foster innovation, he said. Another recommendation would be that sui generis forms of IP protection, such as trade secrets may be better suited for facilitating innovation in Africa than other forms of intellectual property such as patents or copyright, he concluded. Dick Kawooya, Uganda team member and principal investigator for the Open AIR project, concurred to say that western IP tools were for the most part irrelevant for innovation in the African context.Three scenarios came out of the foresight exercise, he said, one of which focused on the informal sector and for which a broader concept of knowledge governance was used, including IP tools, but going beyond those. Based on the case studies, he said, improvisation is very important for the informal sector, he said. “Someone operating in the informal sector has to constantly innovate,” he said. Improvisation is very important to the informal sector, so is apprenticeship. A lot of what happens in the informal sector is open, he said “so what puts you on the edge … is really producing more complex products or processes.” These knowledge appropriation mechanisms are important in Africa, he said.  Continue reading

On the importance of open funding models

by Kelsey Wiens

The benefits of open licenses are clear and substantial. By reducing the burdens and removing the risks associated with ordinary copyright, we make it easier for others to use, share, and build on materials. This week US-based international funder, the Hewlett Foundation, announced that it now requires that grantees license the final materials created with those grants (reports, videos, white papers) under the most recent Creative Commons Attribution license (currently CC-BY 4.0). With over $8 billion in its endowment, the foundation’s policy stance has monumental consequences. It also begs the question:

Why don’t all funders do the same? 

The copyright of the outputs of a project either sits with the foundation or the grantee and once the work is completed is most often buried in a press release or a research paper; filed in a boxed marked “Good Job”. The foundation or grantee must henceforth give permission for others to copy, distribute, remix or reuse the works. It’s guarded, often it’s difficult to find and even more difficult to locate the owner and negotiate and secure permissions. Continue reading

The power of DRM – the power to make you less money

drmby Kelsey Wiens (originally published on her personal blog. All content CC-BY unless otherwise noted).

Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a digital encryption lock that is applied to film, music, video game, and books. The challenge with DRM is that it makes it difficult to share or move books between devices and traps consumers into one device.

The Big 5 Publishers (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster) all automatically apply DRM to all ebooks on Amazon but if you are a independent publisher or author you can choose to apply DRM or not. Once this choice is applied you cannot change it in either direction.

Author Earning recently studied 120,000 of Amazon’s top selling ebooks to see how often DRM was applied and if DRM had any effect on sales.

Not surprisingly the Big 5 evokes DRM almost 100% of the time. By contrast, independent publishers have about 50% of the titles with DRM.  And the 50% of non-DRM ebooks account for 64% of total unit sales. Continue reading

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