Four African universities are among five institutions that have been picked to participate in a continental intellectual property (IP) pilot project, aimed at helping public teaching and research organisations build capacity for developing and implementing institutional IP policy and strategy.
The project is being implemented by global IP organisation the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in collaboration with two continental bodies, one Anglophone, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and the other Francophone, the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI).
The universities include Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Zimbabwe’s Africa University, the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Windhoek, and Ghana’s Koforidua Technical University (KTU).
Also taking part in the initiative is Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), the only non-higher education institution in the group.
The project is financed by WIPO, with support from the Japan Patent Office under the Japan Funds-in-Trust for Africa and Least Developed Countries. The institutions were picked in a competitive process that commenced in 2017, according to ARIPO Director General Fernando Dos Santos.
“In 2017 ARIPO and WIPO agreed to work together on a joint project aimed at helping universities and research and development institutions to adopt accurate IP policies,” said Dos Santos.
The project will be carried out in different phases that will involve assisting the five institutions in formulating or fine-tuning their existing individual IP policies using guidelines developed by the collaborators, he told University World News – Africa.
The call for expression of interest document seen by University World News states that the goal of the initiative is to promote development of IP policies in R&D institutions, in order to stimulate local innovation and technology transfer in Africa for socio-economic growth.
“The underlying idea is that universities and R&D institutions play a key role in innovation through their contribution to the production and diffusion of knowledge. However, the question as to whether universities are using the IP to benefit from products of their research and innovation or to contribute to economic development arises,” Dos Santos said.
Many universities, he said, lacked clear IP policies that would help define issues such as who owns what in a research project as well as knowledge on what can or cannot be commercialised.
There was a need, therefore, to help them adopt IP policies that will enable them to use the IP system efficiently, and reap benefits from their research and innovation.
“In general terms IP awareness is very low in the higher education and research sectors in Africa. Where there is some IP awareness, it is mostly within law faculties and is still being offered as an optional course,” he said.
Even in universities that have IP structures in place, faculty members were often unaware of existence of IP policies due to lack of dissemination of such information.
“Informed by roving seminars we have been holding in collaboration with universities and research institutions around our member states, it is safe to conclude that more needs to be done with regard to IP awareness,” Dos Santos said.
According to Bernard Kariuki, director of intellectual property management at JKUAT, the university runs one of the most vibrant IP systems in Africa (outside universities in South Africa), which has assisted its researchers patent an average of 10 innovations a year.
The university IP system had in the past been used by other institutions for benchmarking, and to learn about setting up their own functional IP systems, he said.
Since the university had both an IP policy and strategy in place, it only needed technical assistance from the pilot to help it come up with a proper channel for commercialisation of patents.
“So far the university is doing well with regard to offering patent protection for innovations; what we need is support in upgrading our system to make it possible for us to commercialise patents,” the engineer said.
It is by commercialising patents that universities are able to impact society and actualise their full potential through knowledge generated from research, he said.