Pan-African IP body survives high-level attack

By Deborah-Fay Ndlovu
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26-11-2012

African science ministers meeting in Congo-Brazzaville earlier this month gave the go-ahead for a pan-African intellectual property body despite widespread concerns about its relevance and cost.

Ministers at the fifth ordinary session of the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST V) on 12-15 November agreed to partner ministers of justice and industry to set up the Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation.

The plan for PAIPO, which harks back to a decision taken by African heads of state in 2007, would see the organisation take the African lead in international intellectual property negotiations. It would also train member states in the field of IP.

Some African policymakers have questioned PAIPO’s location in the science portfolio, saying it fits more naturally under ministers of industry or justice. The proposed pan-African body has also come under fire for duplicating existing structures, given that two similar bodies cater for Anglophone and Francophone Africa respectively.

The concerns were re-iterated at the Congo summit. National science bureaucrats meeting ahead of the ministerial portion of the conference wanted to refer PAIPO to ministers of justice and industry, clearing it off the science ministers’ plate.

But ministers overturned the recommendation from their officials, saying this would be tantamount to abandoning their responsibilities.

“The ministers said it’s us who requested the heads of state to endorse PAIPO in 2007 and we can’t go back to heads of state and say it’s not our business,” says Abdul-Hakim Elwaer, director of the AU’s department of human resources, science and technology.

Elwaer says it is difficult to reverse a heads of state decision without strong justification. “They don’t want to go back and cancel their decisions,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Ethiopia last week.

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