Delay to intellectual property plan for Africa

The organisation will protect intellectual property rights for traditional knowledge such as medicinal plants Copyright: Flickr/ christopher vanbel le

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A blueprint for a pan-African organisation that would promote cooperation on intellectual property issues was sent back to the drawing board this week, dashing hopes that it could be signed off by presidents in January.

The decision to revise the plan was made by the steering committee of the African Ministerial Council for Science and Technology (AMCOST) bureau, which met in Abuja, Nigeria, from 3–4 December.

African science ministers had agreed to establish a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation (PAIPO) in the run-up to an African presidential meeting in January 2007. Among other things, it is hoped that the organisation will promote the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources.

Coming up with an appropriate design has been a difficult and time-consuming process, the Abuja meeting heard. The blueprint presented to the meeting had been drawn up in consultation with stakeholders, including existing intellectual property organisations on the continent.

But delegates in Abuja found the blueprint too top-heavy since it proposes the establishment of a new ministerial forum, the African Ministerial Council for Intellectual Property. But delegates to the meeting said such a forum would make PAIPO too bureaucratic.

"This is the kind of organisation that we set up in Africa, and they don’t work," says Crispus Kiamba, permanent secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology and the chair of the AMCOST steering committee.

Hakim Elwaer, director of the African Union (AU) science and technology department, agreed. "This will not work in this shape," he told the meeting.

The decision to make the revisions is not a big setback says Khalil Timamy, coordinator of the AU Science and Technology Commission in Lagos, Nigeria, who led work on the blueprint. "All that we are discussing now is governance. The rest has been agreed on," he told SciDev.Net.

The AU Commission said it hoped that the final version could be passed for sign-off to an African heads of state summit taking place in six months’ time.

"Even if it takes another year, it will still have been a fast process to set this up," Timamy says.

Once the blueprint of PAIPO has been agreed, heads of state will determine where its secretariat should be located. PAIPO will be funded by the AU.