Dr Fernando dos Santos has been director general of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) since 2013, prior to this he headed up the Industrial Property Institute of Mozambique. He talks to Leaders League about his development of the organization and the promotion of the use of IP for innovation across the African continent.
What are the key issues facing law and regulation in Africa?
I think the key problem is that in a number of countries legislation is outdated; there are a number of countries that updated their legislation after the TRIPS agreement but we still have some with legislation dating from colonial times. There is also the challenge of African parliaments being very slow in adopting new laws. Indeed, IP laws that make it to parliament can remain there for a long time before actually coming into effect. Governments can argue that this is because they have other priorities, such as food supply and agriculture, but that just shows that IP is not yet a priority for many countries.
What makes the African IP market different from other IP markets?
Africa is still very much an importing continent; we export raw materials which have very little IP content and we import a lot of finished stuff. Innovation is happening on the continent, but unfortunately this innovation is not being translated into IP assets, so there’s a very low uptake of the IP system in Africa. We really see this reflected in the number of applications for patents and trademarks. Looking at the latest WIPO figures, we see that Africa accounts for just 0.6% of global patent applications. What is even worse is that within this 0.6%, more than 90% are not of domestic African origin. So we’ve got an incredibly low uptake of IP across the continent, which means the African IP market is not following the trends of other continents.
You’ve been head of ARIPO since 2013. How has the organization developed since then and what challenges have you faced?
When I joined the organization, one of the main challenges that I faced was the lack of visibility of the organization; I found an organization that was very useful for the continent and for the development of its IP system, but people did not know it was there. So I made an effort to uplift the image of ARIPO, with a number of initiatives. We built a new headquarters, which recently won an award as the best commercial property in Zimbabwe and helped market the organization as a hub for general IP and also IP training.
In order to increase engagement, we decided to start visiting the member states; one of our flagship programs was our ‘roving seminars’, which in the period 2014-2016 covered 16 countries and helped raise awareness of the organization and IP in general. We decided to increase interaction with our users by attending key events in the IP world, such as the INTA, FICPI and AIPPI annual gatherings. Our presence at these events is important so that people can learn more about what ARIPO does.
How has ARIPO helped to foster innovation and creativity in Africa?
We are now living in a knowledge-based economy, so innovation and creativity is fundamental in order to anticipate what is happening globally. One of the key issues is the protection of IP, especially where innovation is concerned. The development of an efficient IP office is necessary to encourage innovation and let innovators know that there are ways of protecting this; this is why we worked hard to streamline our procedures and make the registration process user-friendly and efficient. In 2016 we established an academy at ARIPO, which organizes training initiatives; we tackle the issue of innovation and its relationship with IP. We know that the continent is not doing enough in terms of innovation, or how there is a lot of innovation which is not translated into IP assets. Therefore our training programs aim at changing this scenario
We offer awards for innovation and we interact directly with universities, as we believe there is a lot of innovation happening here and we need to show researchers and students how IP can add value to what they are doing. We want to see every university in Africa have its own IP policy and its own vision of IP, so as to spearhead the uptake of IP in the continent.
What major trends have you noticed in the African and/or global IP market?Unfortunately Africa is moving in a different direction from other IP markets; in Europe and America, we are seeing IP as a driving force for development and innovation. However, we are not yet seeing the same in Africa, which is worrying. This continent is culturally rich, with a lot of inventive potential and this needs to be used to help aid development, creativity, and innovation.