Although government has passed the National Intellectual Property Policy 2019, stakeholders observe the intake of Intellectual Property (IP) in Africa is still being hindered by lack of awareness, high registration fees, limited capacity in preparation of acceptable patent applications, and leveraging its power in economic development, among other challenges.
At a Cabinet meeting on May 27, at State House Entebbe, the Executive approved the National Intellectual Property Policy (NIPP), whose objectives include providing an enabling environment for stimulating innovation and, attracting foreign direct investments and a strong IP system to encourage economic growth due to advancement in technology.
The policy will support the establishment of comprehensive public and private institutional IP frameworks for administration, protection, commercialisation and enforcement of IP rights, thus ensuring delivery of IP services to all stakeholders and ensure effective IP rights enforcements.
This will be achieved through building collaborations and strengthening linkages between different IP administrative and enforcement entities.
The policy will also promote research and development; facilitate more active and comprehensive promotion of IP awareness through appropriate short training programmes and generate effective and beneficial linkages between national and international IP systems, as well as set a policy direction in regional and international relations in respect of IP.
“It is thrilling news to all practitioners in the creative industry that at last, government has realised that it is necessary to strengthen the national IP system through practical interventions that enhance the contribution of IP to the social-economic development of Uganda,” the president of Alliance of Independent Copyright Defenders (AICODE), Bonny’M Kasujja, said.
“The national IP policy will help direct the process of mainstreaming the integration of IP into priority national development policies, strategies and plans for purposes of contributing to accelerated realisation of national development goals. This, therefore, means IP assets will begin to be looked at as a potential contributor to the national economy,” Kasujja added.
“This is a very important policy for the cultural and creative industries. It means that for once, cultural and creative industries can now receive adequate support from different ministries and agencies of government as this policy gives them the legal mandate, including enforcement, planning and development. Secondly, the policy will provide a framework through which capital and investments, especially foreign capital, can be directed to the cultural and creative industries in Uganda,” Charles Batambuze, the executive director of Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), said.
Batambuze believes government will offer all the necessary support to implement this policy.
“Yes, I do believe government will implement this policy because it has a bearing on the general economic outlook of Uganda, especially in the key agendas of government such as rapid industrialisation, tourism development, youth employment, wealth and revenue generation. All these are key issues which government would love to achieve and which the implementation of the policy can facilitate.”
“To some extent, the government has been very supportive to the creative industry, particularly in the area of legislation. We have a full cabin of laws relating to IP rights, there are over four government ministries and agencies that coordinate activities in the creative industry, there are three Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) that are supposed to license users of IP works and collect royalties on behalf of the creators. The major challenge, though, is the implementation of the laws and policies that are put in place, as well as the supervision of the agencies and organisations that are supposed to implement and operationalise the various laws and policies,” Kasujja said.
“If creators in Uganda are to benefit from their sweat, government should commit funds to facilitate the operations of the national IP police unit such that it ceases to be a Kampala-based arm-chair agency. Additionally, efforts should be made to establish special courts that are manned by officers who have knowledge about IP for easy management of IP related cases,” Kasujja added.
“…Indeed some departments wanted more roles but were limited. Such departments may not be in full support of the policy, and may want to frustrate it one way or the other. However, in general terms, it is in the interest of Uganda to follow the policy to the letter,” James Wasula, the chief executive officer, Uganda Performing Right Society (UPRS), said.
According to the deputy registrar general (registries) at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), Jane Okot p’Bitek Langoya, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs will lead and coordinate the implementation of the policy.
“The policy is multi-sectoral and will be implemented by various government institutions involving key stakeholders. URSB, as the designated national IP office, will spearhead and coordinate the implementation of the policy in collaboration with other key government institutions. Section 2.5.2 of the NIPP lists the obligations of URSB in the effective coordination and monitoring of the technical aspects of implementing the NIPP,” Langoya said.
“In order to achieve the goals and strategic objectives of this national IP policy, implementation will fully engage all the key IP actors and stakeholders enumerated therein. It is essential that each of the identified actors and stakeholders effectively plays their role(s) in a coordinated and concerted manner, substantially as envisaged in the policy,” Langoya added.
Wasula spoke to this newspaper before he, together with the UPRS compliance officer Dickson Matovu, were suspended by URSB acting under powers contained in Section 75 of the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act, 2006 as Uganda’s National Intellectual Property Office and the National Copyright Information Centre and appointed temporary caretakers for purposes of an inquiry.
According to URSB statement dated July 29, the suspension of Wasula and Matovu is to allow for an effective ongoing inquiry into the constitution, workings and financial conditions of the society in accordance with the above provision of the law. There have also been a number of complaints from members of the society with allegations of mismanagement of finances and remittance of royalties collected from rights users, which URSB would also like to look into critically.
According to the statement, this inquiry that URSB has embarked on is intended to ensure that URSB gets to the bottom of the issues within the society. It is also intended that going forward, UPRS will handle its affairs within the strict confines of the law, transparently, with good governance standards as well as achieving the objectives of its establishment in the interests of its members and all other stakeholders.
Further, in accordance with Section 75 (4) of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006, independent professional caretakers Kabiito Karamagi and Rita Baguma Birungi of Ligomarc Advocates have been appointed, in consultation and with the cooperation of the board of directors of the Society to temporarily oversee the management of UPRS. The activities of the caretakers shall be supervised by URSB and the members of the board of UPRS.
Langoya and Wasula attribute the low intake of IP in Uganda to lack of awareness.
“The main problem is awareness; most of the researchers are mainly interested in publishing for purposes of promotion. They are not so much aware about the IP protection. It is, however, important to note that this situation is not only unique to Uganda, but cuts across many of the poor countries. The IP landscape is also improving as evidenced by the improvements in the WIPO innovation Index for Uganda in the past three consecutive years,” Langoya said.
“There is lack of awareness. Actually, IP is very critical in business management these days, and if a company wants to become or remain relevant, its managers must put priority to using IP in their management. As such, Uganda needs to put more efforts in popularising IP if we are to be abreast with other countries competing in the marketplace,” Wasula concured.
Batambuze differed, arguing: “Firstly, government is investing much less in science research, meaning that the research output is still very low. As a result, we are not registering many patents and the publishing output is still very low. Secondly, we have to re-examine the issue of costs, for example, for filing and protecting patents or getting published in the various outlets and platforms. All these militate against the uptake of IP.”
Registering for IPs
The fees. Intellectual Properties (IP) fees in Uganda are exorbitant. For example, the application for registration of a copyright costs Shs50,000 (about $13.5) at URBS. Advertising the same copyright in the Uganda Gazette will go you Shs300,000 (about $81). This means, for example, if a musician has to advertise his or her 10 songs, it will cost him Shs3.5 million (about $810) – fees which are too high for new musicians.
“When I was advised to copyright my bags, I consulted my lawyers, who told me I needed Shs800,000 ($216) for this purpose. I just gave up,” Charles Kasozi, alias Ras Kasozi, a fashion designer, said. “It is very expensive to register copyright. Isn’t this high cost meant to benefit only established creators? What of the upcoming creators?” he wondered.
How Africa is losing out
Awareness creation on IP is still key. ARIPO has been targeting universities and research institutions, where 90 per cent of knowledge is created. Many universities do not have IP policies. ARIPO is keen to assist them on establishing of IP policies. The same can be said of national IP policies in African countries,” Fernando dos Santos, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) director general, said.
According to dos Santos, “Africa aims at building an innovation-led and knowledge-based economy and IP is the main engine to that end. Regrettably, lack of awareness on the important role that IP plays to promote development is hindering its use. Both entrepreneurs and academicians are still underestimating the contribution that IP can provide to their efforts by adding value and facilitating commercialisation of their ideas.”
“Further, policy-makers are yet to leverage the power of IP and place it at the centre of the economic systems in their respective countries. What is seen in practice is that although there are many innovative ideas in Africa, some are not translated into IP assets. In view of that, Africa is trailing other economies with regard to the uptake of IP,” dos Santos added.
According to dos Santos, some reputable sources such as the Global Innovation Index and WIPO Indicators reveal that there is some sort of stagnation in the IP performance of the continent.
“Although some individual cases show a positive trend, in general, the growth recorded is not exponential as in the case of Asia. To illustrate this, it can be highlighted that for many years, the contribution of Africa to world patent applications has been stagnant and ranging from 0.5 per cent to 0.8 per cent. However, the number of applications, for example, at ARIPO grew by 7.2 per cent in 2017 and at the African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI) by 2.6 per cent,” dos Santos said.
“As advised, although these numbers are positive, they don’t cause any change in the overall picture. It is also worth highlighting the good results achieved by South Africa, that accounts for more than half of all the patent applications filled on the continent. However, even in that case, better figures should be expected judging from the size of the economy. Of a major concern is Nigeria, that although considered today the biggest economy in Africa, its performance in IP is not visible,” dos Santos added.
How much is Africa losing by not registering high growth in this crucial sector?
“By neglecting the use of IP, Africa is not adding value to its natural resources, to its efforts of development and outputs of its research. Innovation is today judged by the intellectual assets and if some are not turned into IP assets that are properly valued and commercialised, the continent will continue to trail behind the others,” dos Santos observed.
“The loss is not only in terms of the numbers that are small, but also in concrete terms because this scenario continues to purport the continent as backward territory where more innovative companies are reluctant to invest. This calls governments to create the enabling environment for innovation to thrive and this includes promoting the use of the IP system,” dos Santos added.
Dos Santos expressed optimism about the future of IP in Africa. “I view it as promising because there are positive signs. The awareness on the need to adopt the IP system is increasing. At the continental level, we see more interest on this topic at the African Union, the Free Trade arrangements and the Regional Economic Blocs. This shows we will see in the coming years more debates, more policy and legal instruments on the matter and eventually, more activity in this area.”
“At the national level, it is worth highlighting that with the exception of Mauritania and Somalia, all African countries have IP laws. With the exception of South Sudan, all other countries have a dedicated institutional framework that is dealing with IP. With that, I believe the situation will continue to improve. What is necessary is to improve the efficiency of the IP offices in the continent and to that end, capacity building is crucial.”
“ARIPO and OAPI have trained at the Master’s Degree level more than 400 professionals who are now giving an important contribution to the development of the IP system on the continent. If those efforts are sustained, the continent will see more skilled people dealing with IP and this will bring huge advantages in the various sectors on the continent. Also, if appropriate IP rights are promoted such as utility models, designs and geographical indications, we may see in the near future more benefits flocking to Africa,” dos Santos added.