Knowledge for Development

Biopiracy, the intellectual property regime and livelihoods in Africa


Date: 22/03/2011


Oduor Ong’wen, the Kenya country director for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), explains how Africa has lagged in the advancement and implementation of IP rights, with dire consequence for many communities that could have benefitted immensely from indigenous crops and plants and derived products from natural resources and traditional recipes, if well protected by law. He concludes in his detailed review on the IP regime in Africa: “Genetic technologies move knowledge from the public to the private domain. Therefore, increasing amounts of know-how, which would have been available freely for further innovation and product development, is either unavailable, if exclusive licenses were granted, or must be purchased.

While research and development in all countries is affected by these changes, African countries suffer most, for four reasons. First, located in the periphery of research and development networks, their chance to obtain exclusive licenses first is very low. Second, transnational corporation have long entered the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ by creating huge patent portfolios for the sale and exchange of licenses and by creating knowledge monopolies and cross-licensing networks in which emerging industries in Africa can hardly participate. Third, while identifying and purchasing the necessary licenses is difficult and costly for any industry, African countries are particularly handicapped because they frequently have not the same informational and financial resources. Lastly, the increasing costs of patent filings and litigations required for new product developments pose a growing barrier to any research and development efforts in poor countries.”

(Source: Pambazuka News, November 2010)

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