Lessons on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Development from West Africa

Full title: Open Minds: Lessons on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Development from West Africa

There are many people in the world who believe that intellectual property protection inevitably facilitates innovation and, consequently, development. Leaving aside the crucial definitional distinctions between economic growth and social, cultural and human development, the assumption that more IP protection always causes more innovation is fundamentally flawed. It is equally naïve to think, however, that IP protection necessarily precludes access to knowledge and undermines openness. The truth is that it is not IP per se but socially and economically inefficient exploitation of IP rights that threaten access, participation and collaboration in the new global knowledge society.

There is mounting evidence, however, that IP training and capacity building in West Africa is being driven more by dogma than a genuine concern for equitable development. This paper will describe and analyze empirical evidence—from fieldwork site visits, impact assessment interviews, focus groups, case studies and literature reviews—related to training and capacity building programmes being delivered in various ways throughout selected West African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. Such programmes include initiatives undertaken by the World Intellectual Property Organization and regional associations like the African Regional Intellectual Property Office, public relations and awareness campaigns coordinated by rights-holder groups with or without support from national IP offices, and institutionalized curricula at universities and other centres of teaching and research. These programmes also cut across social and economic sectors, from population health to agricultural biotechnology to cultural industries.

The cumulative effect of existing IP training and capacity building programmes in the West African nations studied is that minds are becoming more closed rather than more open about the relationship between IP, innovation and development. A prerequisite to creating IP systems that drive innovation, economic growth and human freedom is a more robust and nuanced understanding of the role IP really plays in society. A holistic appreciation of not just laws and policies, but also practices related to IP and innovation will help developing countries design appropriate, context-specific systems of knowledge governance.

After documenting the growth and impact of one-dimensional initiatives and establishing the conceptual parameters for a more robust training and capacity building system, the paper will conclude by offering concrete prescriptions for effective curriculum design and course delivery. Specific suggestions of key topics, pedagogical techniques and evaluation criteria will be offered to engage a diverse array of constituents—from scholarly researchers to practicing professionals to government officials—in the IP and innovation policy arena.

Authors: Jeremy de Beer and Chidi Oguamanam

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