The South African Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) recently hosted the first IP Africa Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa under the theme Intellectual Property and Economic Growth and Development in Africa. The Forum, though more people had been expected, was well attended with top IP experts, professionals and practitioners in attendance. Representatives from Adams & Adams were invited to present papers and sit on the IP experts advisory panel during the breakout plenary sessions.

The programme was opened by Ms Thezi Mabuza, Chief Director with the DTI who welcomed the guests and set the tone of the meeting by outlining the expectations of the conference in guiding and facilitating the development of IP in Africa. Whilst the Deputy Director-General, Ms Zodwa Ntuli was introducing the Honourable Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Rob Davies, to give the opening address, the meeting was disrupted by a demonstration by members of the Treatment Action Group (TAC) wearing t-shirts in support of HIV AIDS treatment programmes. The message of the TAC, delivered by one of its members to the meeting, was a call on the Minister to finalise and adopt the long awaited IP policy, the amendment of the country’s patent laws and more importantly, to consider the right to health against the right of the patent holder. Indeed, the Honourable Minister in his address concurred with TAC on the government’s approach to balance the rights of innovators with the rights of society. Mr Davies confirmed that “the balance needed to be tilted in favour of development, innovation and the social fabric of a country.”

He further highlighted South Africa’s intention to seek ways to protect Indigenous Knowledge through the proposed IP Amendment Bill.

Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, the Deputy Director-General, WIPO, formally opened the meeting and touched on the rapid development of electronic commerce (e-commerce) and the challenges this placed on developing countries without the IT infrastructure. He highlighted WIPO’s 4 main developmental goals:

● country specific IP strategies in line with national goals

● assisting countries to develop a balanced legislative process

● the development of IP institutional infrastructure

● the development of HR capacity

Prof Carlos Correa, Special Adviser, South Centre presented the topic for the first plenary session on developing an IP system appropriate to the level of development, to meet national development objectives. One of the expert panellists, Prof Esmé du Plessis from Adams & Adams, succinctly highlighted the issues to be addressed at the plenary session and indeed, the meeting, as follows:

● whether IP can really be used to achieve developmental objectives

● how to create an IP system with a developmental objective and

● the role of international organisations in assisting developing countries move forward

Another interesting session, which produced some lively debate amongst the attendees and panellists, was a presentation on the benefits of substantive examination of patents versus the depository system (currently followed in South Africa). The expert panellists included Mr Chris Kiige, Director Industrial Property, ARIPO, and Mr Danie Dohmen, Partner, at Adams & Adams. Mr Kiige was in support of the view for substantive examination and Mr Dohmen outlined the depository system currently in place in South Africa. The general feeling amongst the delegates was that the examination system is better. It was generally accepted, however, that South Africa, at this stage, was not endowed with enough science graduates to be trained as examiners to effectively deal with the demands that would be placed upon them. South Africa may well join the side of the pro-examination lobby once the necessary mechanisms are in place.

The Forum was an overwhelming success and Mr Lungile Dukwana, Chief Operations Officer, DTI, stated that although the initial plans in hosting this Forum was not to make it an annual event, further discussions would be held within the DTI on the future of the Forum. We have no doubt that the value of the Forum was self evident and Adams & Adams will continue to work with the DTI and other IP agencies to develop and sustain IP in Africa.

Adams & Adams was able to host some of the attendees at a luncheon held at its offices during the seminar. In attendance at the lunch was Mr Fernando dos Santos, the Director-General, ARIPO, Mr Christopher Kiige, Director of Industrial Property, ARIPO, Ms Elvine Apiyo, Legal Officer, Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) and Ms Ainna Kaundu, Principal Economist, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Namibia.


Authored by Menzi Maboyi - Africa Practice Manager - Patents Department - Adams & Adams
Verified by Nicky Garnett - Partner - Patents Department - Adams & Adams

The firm practises directly in several Southern African countries and through long-established associates in others.