The blind spot in the Intellectual Property debate of poor nations

Out of the 2,888,800 patent applications that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reported in 2015, about 40% were coming from Chinese innovators alone. (

With those patent figures in mind, I tentatively listened to the official speeches during Uganda’s celebration of Intellectual Property Day that same year. I had been in the preparatory meetings for these celebrations and all this time, I had sensed that – generally as a country – we actually have not deeply internalized the idea that the backbone of competitiveness and the prosperity of nations in the increasingly globalized knowledge-economy are both pegged on its Intellectual Property mindset and system.

On the part of government, I could see that there is no clear Intellectual Property (IP) policy, funding or system for nurturing patentable innovations and enforcement of IP rights.

The knowledge-gap between physical and intellectual property in the mind of the police force is as limited as the general public’s. This in itself is a major road block to enforcing IP rights even if political goodwill was in abundance. On the other hand the absence of political goodwill in the fight against the abuse of IP rights could be explained by the argument that protection of IP rights in a country with literally insignificant presence on the global IP shelves could invoke unintended economic and political implications of great impact to the social welfare of a poor country.

If one keeps in mind that the very existence of IP rights is a result of an act of parliament, the role of legislation, regulation and enforcement (collectively government) in protecting IP rights cannot be ignored.

It is therefore imperative that the multiple stakeholders in the Anti-Counterfeit Network (ACN) work together to promote IP rights by dealing with counterfeit mindsets and culture in a manner that enables both government and the consumers to appreciate that the protection of IP rights stimulates creativity and research. Creativity and research give birth to innovation, invention and business competiveness; all of which are the building blocks of trade, employment and sustainable development.

The number and commercial viability of patents, trademarks and industrial designs in the US Department of Commerce is the measure of the power of its economy and intellectual dominance. I bet that the US protects its Intellectual Property with the same zeal that it protects its nuclear weaponry. IP-zealous nations understand that the passion for innovation and creation of enterprise among its people is driven by the assurance that their government will do anything to protect their intellectual works.

As we all work towards educating ourselves on IP matters, allow me to tickle our minds philosophically:

Action is animated thoughts.
History is made by thoughts that men animated.
Intellect is measured by the quality of animated thoughts.
Legacies are outstanding animations of ordinary thoughts.
A thought that is not animated is as dead as faith without action.
Intellectual Property is the evidence of things unseen, the very substance of transferable wealth that is backed by the will of law.

As we celebrate Intellectual Property Day on 26th April 2017, may we all work to find the will to animate the trillions of brilliant thoughts that our young people have been denied the means to animate into property.

By Kawesa Richard

Director of Projects & Strategy
Anti-Counterfeit Network Africa)

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