[AfrICANN-discuss] UNCTAD Report Sees Sustainable African Growth In IP Flexibilities

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Sat Jun 16 09:11:12 SAST 2012

 UNCTAD Report Sees Sustainable African Growth In IP Flexibilities

Published on 15 June 2012 @ 10:30 pm

By William New <http://www.ip-watch.org/author/william/>, Intellectual
Property Watch

The United Nations trade and development agency this week published its
Economic Development in Africa 2012 report, which argued, among other
things, that the region’s sustainable future depends on using flexibilities
in intellectual property rights as appropriate.

The Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Sustainable Development
(UNCTAD) report, which this year focusses on structural transformation and
sustainable development in Africa, is available

The report provides a range of suggestions for achieving what it calls a
“sustainable structural transformation.” In outlining the role of the
international community, UNCTAD said African governments must play the
leading role in formulating and implementing strategies, but an
international enabling environment must be established.

For instance, the international context should uphold previously agreed
responsibilities such as one in which African countries are “not … hindered
in their pursuit of accelerated economic growth and structural
transformation and should seek to enhance environmental sustainability by
means of relative, rather than absolute, decoupling, the latter being much
more relevant for developed countries that have already achieved high
living standards.”

In addition, developed countries should “provide financial support and
facilitate technology transfer to support [sustainable structural
transformation] and design the international trade regime and intellectual
property rights regime in a way that facilitates the sustainable
development process.”

In terms of technology transfer, UNCTAD said, most African countries will
be “technology followers rather than technology leaders.” This makes it
necessary to create “global institutional arrangements that increase
international cooperation and collaboration in all areas relevant to
[sustainable structural transformation] and to accelerate the transfer,
adoption and adaptation of relevant technologies in African countries.”

“This,” it said, “is how leapfrogging can become possible.”

The report highlighted several ways such international cooperation can
happen. For instance, a large body of technological knowledge lies in the
public domain.

“Many of the environmental technologies that developing countries are
seeking to access are off patent,” it said. In that case, better access to
such technologies is needed as well as the “know-how” needed to use them.
UNCTAD suggested a technology bank to facilitate search and access.

For obtaining licensed technology, lack of financial resources could be a
“key barrier,” UNCTAD said, so there may be a case for establishing
international funds to help developing countries to purchase and
manufacture some technologies.

In addition, “major efforts” should be made to increase the possibility for
technologies to enter the public domain as well as to stimulate the
transfer of publicly funded technologies to developing countries,
especially those in Africa.

And the report called for attention to be paid to ways in which the IP
system impacts technology transfer that support “environmental
sustainability objectives.”

“It is important in particular that IPR facilitate technological
development and do not act as a barrier preventing African countries from
accessing and using the technologies necessary for leapfrogging,” it said.
“This is a complex issue.”

The report supports the notion that a “delicate balance” needs to be found
between the advantages and costs of IP rights for countries that must
obtain technology. It therefore suggests several reforms to the global IP
regime that could be supportive. These include:

- “broader room” for compulsory licensing. In the area of environmental
sustainability this would replicate the World Trade Organization Agreement
on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and public
health amendment, which reinforced countries’ ability to use such

- strengthened standards for patenting, particularly standards of breadth
and novelty

- limiting the length of patent protection

- allowing innovators to use existing patented knowledge in order to
generate new innovations

Separately, the report also called for more development assistance for
agricultural research and development and the extension of sustainable
agriculture in Africa.

Among considerations for international trade, the report looks favourably
upon South-South cooperation and triangular cooperation in order to
accelerate the “transfer, assimilation and deployment of environmentally
sound technologies (EST) in Africa.”

This could involve technical assistance for African countries “on the use
and deployment of EST, grants for the purchase of patented EST, training of
African nationals abroad in the area of green technology use and
adaptation, and support to African technological research institutions and

It said research shows growth in environmentally sound technologies, and
transfer occurring to larger developing countries such as Brazil, China and
India. Research from the World Intellectual Property Organization, it said,
argued that transfer of such technologies is not always “unidirectional”
from developed to developing countries. This suggests that triangular
cooperation mechanisms should be fostered, it said.

The WIPO research UNCTAD cites is a 2011 “Global Challenges Brief”
entitled, “When policy meets evidence: What’s next in the discussion on
intellectual property, technology transfer and the environment?”
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