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Last updated: Version 2.3 (Updated May 15, 2018).

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Wednesday, May 16 • 17:15 - 18:15
Open Innovation in Africa: Access, Intellectual Property, and Trade

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The age-old stereotypical image of Africa as a “dark” continent has undermined Africa’s immense potential for and contribution to the global innovation and creativity. As such, the innovation or knowledge generated in the continent is dubbed “traditional” in contradistinction with the “modern” innovation in the West. In defiance of this profound distortion, Africa is rather emerging as a continent with rich innovative insights and experiences. Its emergence as a rising continent is visible from its increasing role in the global geopolitical and economic spheres.

Yet, the lingering effect of the stereotype tends to overshadow the enormous innovative potential of the societies in the continent. Often, Africa is treated as a mere recipient of innovative ideas and technology that in turn serve as disguised justifications for the entrenchment of Western conception of intellectual property system in the continent. In effect, neglected is the vast arrays of local creativity and innovation that occur both in the formal and informal sectors in Africa. It is noted that the existing IP modalities tend to both undermine and undervalue African innovation and creativity.

Refuting untested assumptions about innovation in the continent, very illuminative of the reality are the studies by the Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR). Exploring major research themes comprising high tech hubs, informal sector, indigenous entrepreneurship, and legal and policy metrics, Open AIR studies not only reveal the flourishing innovation through collaborative dynamics in Africa but also highlight the linkage among access, IP and trade as well as the development of appropriate metrics. For instance, mobile technologies, 3D printing, and maker-spaces in the high-tech hubs, traditional knowledge-driven artisan creative works in the informal and indigenous entrepreneurship are among the several instances of the emerging innovative areas across Africa. The collaborative innovation dynamics in the continent also meshes well with the notion of open innovation and open development.

Against this backdrop arises the interplay among access, IP and trade and the consequent implications on the various rights involved. While open innovation is vital for sustainable development in Africa, fostering innovation requires access to knowledge, robust and context-sensitive IP system and inclusive markets. Thus, this panel will examine these issues in relation to education, agriculture and engineering technology that constitute the major context for an open innovation—all in the context of digitization and digital rights.

The issue of access is critical both for education and agriculture as they depend on IP-protected in knowledge goods such as educational materials and seeds respectively. At least, involved in this issue of access to the essential inputs are numerous IP and data-related considerations. From copyright perspective, worth exploring is an ongoing study that looks into interplay between copyright and the right to tertiary education in the context of access to learning materials. Likewise, critical are the issues of data-driven agriculture in the context of access to seeds for food security in Africa. Further, important issues that implicate various rights are those involved in open innovation occurring in hardware, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing. All these important issues are being explored by Open AIR researchers.

Given the critical importance of access rights for innovation-driven development in Africa, the exploration of the interplay among access, IP and trade in the context of open innovation by the panelists and the active engagement of the audience are very vital at this point in time. Addressing the issues in a manner that fosters open innovation requires an in-depth deliberation of the various stakeholders, academia, civil societies and policy makers.

Committed to promoting an evidence-based innovation and IP policy reform in Africa and beyond through research and dialogue, Open AIR is the leading interdisciplinary research network of renowned scholars and emerging researchers from diverse fields.

This session is going to discuss emerging issues relating to IP in Africa, from a uniquely African perspective, including the relationship between IP protection and digital agriculture and databases, local innovation, indigenous inventions and traditional knowledge, innovation by women and refugees. At the end of discussions, a table will be drawn up of five principles relevant to IP in Africa.

avatar for Jeremy de Beer

Jeremy de Beer

Full Professor and Co-Director, Open AIR, University of Ottawa
Jeremy de Beer creates and shapes ideas about innovation, intellectual property, and international trade and development. He is an award-winning law professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law and member of the Centre for Law, Technology, and Society. He is a co-founding... Read More →

avatar for Helen Chuma-Okoro

Helen Chuma-Okoro

Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Helen Chuma-Okoro is a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS). She is also a member of the New and Emerging Researchers Group (NERG), which is a group of emerging scholars engaged in researching about Africa, under the auspices of the Open Africa... Read More →
avatar for Tobias Schonwetter

Tobias Schonwetter

Director: IP Unit, University of Cape Town
Dr. Tobias Schonwetter is the Director of the Intellectual Property Unit and an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town's law faculty. He currently is a Principal Investigator for various intellectual property-related research and capacity building projects, including Open... Read More →
avatar for Nicole Tumaine

Nicole Tumaine

Interim Program Manager & Research Fellow, Open AIR, University of Ottawa
Nicole Tumaine is passionate about international development issues, especially refugee affairs and international law. She holds a B.Soc. in International Development, with a minor in Life Sciences, from the University of Ottawa. As of September 2018, Nicole will be pursuing a joint... Read More →

Wednesday May 16, 2018 17:15 - 18:15 EDT