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Intellectual property rights (IPR); African states; Law; Trademarks


Intellectual property rights (IPR) concern that branch of law dealing with the regulation of the creation, protection, ownership, transfer, use, and access to intangible and tangible creations of the human mind. From its modest origins in trademarks, IPRs today traverse the gamut of copyright, patents, industrial designs, trade secrets, integrated circuits and topography, plant breeders’ rights, geographic indications, and other emerging categories of IPR including folklore. The vast majority of countries across the world have IPR laws on their statute books. Beyond statutory provisions, states have also created administrative and institutional organs to deal with the manifold aspects of IPR. Intellectual property rights are often promoted as useful for stimulating and encouraging creativity, economic development, innovation, and technology transfer. Yet, for more than a century, African states have participated in IPR regimes with little or nothing to show for it in terms of economic development and transfer of technology. Like a mirage, the wondrous proms of domestic innovation and technological development recede from grasp no matter how long African states tread on the hard paths of strong IPRs regimes. Beyond the meagre harvests from its long and expensive investments in IPR institutions, personnel and statutes, the most worrisome aspect of contemporary IPR issues in Africa is that the development of more progressive IPR regimes in the continent has been resisted, indeed stunted by local actors and institutions. In some of the contemporary debates on the content, structure, and processes of modern IPR regimes, the voices of African IPR administrators and practitioners have been muted or silent. If and when they speak, they tend to champion the interests of foreign business entities at the expense of domestic concerns. For instance, controversies over manifold IPR issues such as access to crucial patented drugs, compulsory licensing, fair use in copyright, the scope of rights given to rights holders and apparent inequities of international arrangements for IPR protection, have witnessed little or no critical intervention by African IPR experts and administrators. Considering the high levels of education and experience in IPR possessed by the leading lawyers and administrators on the continent, one would expect Africa’s IPR practitioners and administrators to be at the forefront marshalling the need for progressive rebirth of IPRs in the continent. Yet, on some of the most important debates of the day, they have defended their clients and espoused the case for maintenance of the status quo even when their fellow citizens bear the brunt of the unrealized proms of robust IPR laws.