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Using the Intellectual Property System to Harness African Creativity

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Francis Gurry, Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization

“Poetry must not perish. Because if it does, where will the world’s hope be?” These famous words flowed from the pen of former Senegalese President Leopold Sedar Senghor, just one of Africa’s many world-renowned talents.

Poetry and other expressions of human creativity, like Sedar Senghor’s writings, bring meaning to the lives of people around the world. Across Africa, with its long roster of noted artists, musicians and wordsmiths, human creativity and innovation are also an important source of livelihood for many people.

The economy in sub-Saharan Africa is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow by 5.1 percent next year, despite a softening in demand for raw commodities. However, the greatest natural resource in across Africa is human creativity: The continent’s economic growth and development depends on harnessing the power of the mind.

This has always been true and is even more pronounced in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, where many of the fastest-growing industries and companies are based on human creativity and innovation.

For Africa to maximize the effect of its human creativity in this worldwide marketplace for fresh ideas and products, governments across the continent will need to explore how shifts in structural, legal and regulatory regimes can boost imagination and promote innovation.

That is why the Republic of Senegal, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the African Union and the Government of Japan are holding a three-day conference beginning November 3 entitled “The African Ministerial Conference 2015: Intellectual Property for an Emerging Africa.”

On the agenda: How Africa can better benefit from an effective international architecture of laws and norms that permit individuals, universities, companies and others to protect and promote their creations around the world.

Patents for inventions, trademarks for logos, industrial designs for beautiful and functional products: This is intellectual property (IP), but it also so much more. Also included are the copyright systems that reward writers, artists, musicians and other creators and allow them to market their work around the world.

IP helps ensure that the product of your mind belongs to you, so that you and your family will benefit. But governments need to put in place legal, regulatory and other frameworks to maximize human creativity and assure it can be shared across boundaries.

So this important conference is being held in Dakar, on the western tip of Africa, where Ministers from across Africa will travel to look into how their countries can better interact with the global IP system. H. E. Mrs. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius, will also be joining the proceedings. A prolific scientist herself, President Gurib-Fakim is no stranger to the benefits of innovation to progress.

A central topic of discussion will be the increasing recognition that intellectual property and innovation are two important contributory factors for economic, social and cultural development, building competitive industries as well as enhancing trade in today’s global knowledge-based economy.

In this context, African nations are embracing the knowledge-based economy in order to access the opportunities it offers for poverty reduction, enhanced agricultural productivity, as well as the prospects for industrial competitivity, which could pave the way for sustainable and inclusive development.

Many nations initially constructed their now-successful economies on heavy industry, cheap labor and circumscribed markets. Global economic trends however indicate a future where human ingenuity adds value to products in an increasingly globalized marketplace. Because of this, IP has taken center stage in economies around the world.

The World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations with 188 member states has long worked with African nations to better utilize the global IP system, providing free or low-cost access to important technical information, helping build centers where African innovators can link into global resources and aiding governments better the mechanical infrastructure that underpins the global IP system that WIPO helps administer.

But more work remains to be done, by WIPO and governments across Africa, but also by the people of Africa. This Conference will send a strong signal that this great continent, with its wealth of human potential, is ready to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the knowledge economy, to build a better future for all – one based on the innovative and creative spirit of its peoples.

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2015 by in Writer's Blog.
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