IP Unit presentations on Human Rights, Innovation, Big Data and equitable and socially-just research processes

Dl61-NnWsAAxDwXAt the end of August, the UCT IP Unit participated in UCT Law Faculty’ Research Week. This initiative was presented for researchers and research units to engage with each other’s work and potentially work together. Various members of the IP Unit presented on the intersections of intellectual property rights with, amongst other things, human rights, big data and innovation.

Student research assistant, Tanveer Jeewa, presented on the nexus between intellectual property rights and human rights, based on work carried out under our ASK Justice project. She started by recounting the history of the two fields of law and how they eventually merged. This discussion is expanded on in an early blog post entitled: Intellectual Property Rights and Human Rights Law: A Difficult Relationship. Through various examples that showed the impact of IP on human rights, she demonstrated the need for projects like ASK Justice. ASK Justice contributes to positive policy change – specifically, informing and influencing current and future IP law and policy reform processes, from a human rights perspective – with regard to increasing access to knowledge and access to medicines in four Southern and East African countries: Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The project sought to achieve this using a multipronged approach involving networking and collaboration, teaching and research, capacity-building, and contributing to public understanding, discourse and debate.

Thereafter, PhD candidate Bram Van Wiele presented on the IP Unit’s flagship project – the Open African Innovation Research network (Open AIR). Open AIR is a unique collaborative multidisciplinary network of researchers spread across 15 African countries and Canada. Bram’s presentation provided a brief history of the evolution of Open AIR’s work in the last decade and then showcased his current case study under Open AIR, carried out together with IP Unit director Dr. Tobias Schonwetter. This case study examines the issue of 3D printing as an enabler of social entrepreneurship. Recognising the potential of 3D printing technology for facilitating locally relevant innovation and social entrepreneurship in Africa, the case study looks at two promising approaches for increasing access of social entrepreneurs to 3D printing technology in South Africa and Kenya: Fab Labs and the availability of low cost 3D printers. Based on data collected during interviews conducted with key players at Fab Labs in South Africa and Kenya as well as with social entrepreneurs making use of low cost 3D printers, this case study seeks to uncover whether either of these approaches, or both, aid the development and scaling up of social entrepreneurial business models in Africa. In particular, it strives to understand better the role of collaborative problem-solving, follow-on innovation, knowledge sharing and appropriation in this context.

Two highly topical issues in the context of IP  concern the Internet of Things and big data, and PhD candidate Douglas Gichuki presented on how the two issues are related. In his presentation he identified the different obstacles around classifying data, especially with regards to property rights, and he emphasised that data could fall within the scope of different branches of intellectual property law, including trademark law, copyright law and patent law. Douglas then engaged in a discussion on whether new (intellectual) property laws need to be developed in order to better cater for data. The presentation ended on a strong note for enthusiasts to watch out for the developments around data and IP.

At the end, Dr. Schonwetter briefly presented on a collaborative research project that investigated climate change and the role of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge in assisting communities adapting to climate change. He reported that during during initial conversations between the researchers, some members of Nama and Griqua raised concerns about research processes. In particular, they were hesitant to share their knowledge with researchers because of the risks involved, which might include losing control over how their knowledge would be used and how their communities would be portrayed. Furthermore, they expressed concern that their contributions to research in the past had been left unacknowledged by researchers who failed to share benefits with them and did little to establish trust. As a result, the focus of the project towards developing a guide for communities in South Africa on more equitable and socially-just processes with the view of enabling the communities to engage with prospective researchers on their own terms.