On June 28 2018 the Zimbabwean authorities published a document entitled the Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Policy and Implementation Strategy.
For those who have witnessed the economic decline of Zimbabwe, the document is almost plaintive. It acknowledges that Zimbabwe is in “dire need of a National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy.” It puts extraordinary faith in intellectual property. According to the document, IP will “turn around the economic fortunes of the country” and “transform Zimbabwe from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.”
The policy will create a country with “high levels of IP awareness, IP consciousness and IP literacy.” It will create a country that has a “culture of creativity, innovation and inventiveness.” It will ensure that there are “reliable IP laws and enforcement measures.”
Zimbabwe is not the first country to publish an official IP policy. In 2016, Ghana published its National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy (NIPPS). This document recognises that “globalization and technological advancement are changing the landscape of the world economy.” It recognises that “trade in high-value added and intensive goods and services has become central to many economies.” It recognises that “knowledge-based industries are becoming the drivers of economies.”
It shows ambition too. The policy will bring Ghana’s IP system in line with “international best practices.” It will place Ghana “amongst the leading countries in the utilization of IP as a tool for rapid national development.” It will allow Ghana to achieve the status of “an advanced human society with a better quality of life reflected in all aspects of socio-economic and environmental conditions.”
The IP policy that really made the headlines was the one in South Africa, first introduced in 2013. Unlike the two described above, this one had a far stronger developing world flavour to it, with suggestions that South Africa should follow developments in “similar economies such as Brazil, India and Egypt”. This issue attracted criticism from a leading IP judge, who suggested that this would do little to “engender confidence and attract investment.” He also suggested that some joined-up thinking was in order, alleging that the Department of Science and Technology was pro-IP, whereas the Department of Health and the Department of Education were anti-IP.
Much water has flowed under the bridge and now one of the central pillars of that policy, patent examination, an issue strongly linked to concerns about evergreening of pharmaceutical patents, is seemingly imminent. In February 2018, three trainee patent searchers employed by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), published an article in a South African legal magazine. In it, they confirmed that South Africa would be phasing in patent examination, starting with certain sectors as well as local applications. They said that this would lead to an increase in costs, but promised that “the quality of the patents granted by the CIPC will increase as well.”
It is quite clear that a number of African governments now take IP very seriously.