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Creating an enabling environment for socio-economic, scientific and technological development in Africa

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November 2019

By Francis Gurry, Director General, WIPO

The Conference on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Value Addition for Business Competitiveness and Sustainable Development in Africa, co-organized by WIPO, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) with the support of the Japan Patent Office and the Government of Zimbabwe will take place from November 6 to 8, 2019, in Harare, Zimbabwe. The conference offers an exciting opportunity to exchange information and experiences on how African countries can better use the intellectual property (IP) system to create an enabling environment for socio-economic, scientific and technological development in Africa.

In 2018, WIPO, ARIPO and OAPI signed a tripartite agreement that marks a milestone in inter-agency regional cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa. This strategic agreement will allow WIPO and its partners to develop more coherent, appropriate and practical responses to the needs of African countries. This development is particularly important at a time of heightened interest among policymakers, academia and businesses in Africa to explore concrete and practical ways to use the IP system to foster innovation and cultural production to put the continent as a whole on a more sustainable footing.

In recent years, countries in Africa have achieved among the fastest and sustained rates of economic growth in the world. However, a rapidly expanding young population – estimates suggest that by 2050 more than 60 percent of the African workforce will be under the age of 25 – and advanced and globalized technological developments, are fueling the imperative for countries in Africa to find ways to leverage the continent’s wealth of innovative and creative talent.

The link between IP and development is undoubtedly very complex, but in the global knowledge economy, innovation, creativity and IP hold great promise in spurring economic growth, trade and employment in all regions, including Africa.

At a time when technological developments are advancing at an increasingly rapid pace, IP has become an indispensable mechanism for translating know how into tradeable commercial assets and for capturing the competitive advantage that they represent. Stimulating innovation and greater use of the IP system in Africa is of pivotal importance to the continent’s ability to generate the business growth needed to create employment and to secure long-term social and economic sustainability.

The Conference offers an opportunity to explore a range of practical measures to create the conditions for innovation ecosystems to develop and thrive. Discussions will explore the advantages of strengthening university-industry linkages and the benefits that could flow from the adoption of IP policies by universities and research institutes across Africa. Such policies could help improve the relevance of research programs to local needs and enable universities and research institutions to monetize their outputs and thereby secure research funding. By facilitating the transfer of new knowledge to the market, such policies are also pivotal in supporting the development and growth of a more competitive business sector. The Conference will also examine the support mechanisms that need to be put in place to promote greater use of the IP system by small and medium-sized enterprises in order to foster innovation and business competitiveness in Africa.

Developing the capacity for innovation and creative production is a challenging long-term game and can take decades. A concerted commitment to IP and innovation by all economic actors is critically important, especially amid the gathering pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The impact of the rapid technological change that this transformation involves will resonate across the globe. Take for example, the rapid evolution of advanced manufacturing, which includes a range of technologies – robotics, sensors, additive printing and artificial intelligence – that will replace low-cost labor. Inevitably, this will have an impact on global value chains, and the situation of African countries in those value chains. Similarly, greater connectivity has already transformed the production and distribution of creative and cultural products and will continue to influence and transform local business models. The Conference in Harare is therefore a timely occasion to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with the ongoing digital transformation and the practical steps required to enable African countries to navigate them to their best advantage.

This exciting event is an opportunity for those who are in the front line of knowledge creation and its commercialization to contribute to shaping an action plan for an advanced innovation ecosystem for the continent that will enable African countries to thrive in the years ahead.

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