World Intellectual Property Organization

Africa University: First Group of IP Graduates Awarded Master’s Degrees

August 2010

This year, 40 men and women became the first professionals to be awarded Master’s degrees in Intellectual Property (MIP) from Africa University in Zimbabwe. The students, who included university lecturers, lawyers, young professionals and graduate students as well as IP stakeholders, were awarded degree certificates from Africa University in Zimbabwe at the institution's 16th Graduation Ceremony in June. Andra Stevens, Director of Information and Public Affairs at Africa University, reports on this milestone event.

Through a combination of distance learning, face-to-face, on-campus and practical training, two groups of graduate students successfully completed the Master’s program in IP – 22 students had enrolled in 2008 and 26 in 2009. Professor Fanuel Tagwira, Vice Chancellor of the University, said, “the Master’s Degree in Intellectual Property (MIP) is an immensely important initiative, and we are excited to see it attracting a growing number of students and new partners.”

Fourteen African countries were represented among the 40 students who graduated this year. Together, they form a complement of leaders and trainers to help African nations exploit the full potential of their IP assets in promoting social and economic development. The one-year MIP program is being offered by Africa University in collaboration with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and WIPO.


Photo: Africa University

Japan recently announced it will fund five full scholarships for candidates who enroll in the MIP program in 2010. Professor Tagwira noted “these developments indicate that the program is not only relevant, but that its prospects for long-term sustainability are very good.”

Reinforcing Africa’s IP foundations

Professor Tagwira also applauded the contribution of WIPO and ARIPO saying that “none of this would have been possible” without their ongoing support. He said, “Both WIPO and ARIPO showed great foresight and were proactive in providing access to training in Africa.” The Vice Chancellor observed that the training received by the 40 graduates “provides African nations with the beginnings of a foundation from which to understand, protect and fully exploit the development potential of intellectual property assets.”

Students engage in IP awareness

“The training I received from Africa University and WIPO has been of tremendous help as I have come to appreciate the importance of IP awareness,” said Aleck Ncube, a Zimbabwean who enrolled in the program when it was launched in 2008.

Mr. Ncube is on the faculty at Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Since completing his training in mid-2009, he has been working with colleagues to set up an IP Education Unit within the NUST Technology Park Department. Mr. Ncube noted that, until recently, researchers could utilize NUST’s facilities or use the institution as a base as they developed new technologies and then leave without sharing any of the benefits derived from their work with the University. His current efforts are aimed at ensuring that both innovators and the institution gain from having access to knowledge and inventions developed by students and faculty researchers at NUST.

For Mr. Ncube, the successful commercialization of research output in Africa is crucial to the development of the continent, especially in the context of dwindling public funding for higher education institutions. “The impact of my input,” he stressed, “is that the efficiency of the Technology Park Department will be greatly enhanced and the University is expecting to see an increase in creativity and inventive processes from its faculties. The major aim is to make academics and students aware of the value of their intellectual creativity and to derive benefits from it.”

His fellow student, Bruce Mwiya, who followed the MIP Program at Africa University from the Copperbelt University in Zambia where he was Assistant Dean in the School of Business, said that the initiative “comes at a time when Africa needs to change its approach to economic development. Africa needs to start the teaching of intellectual property in all academic and professional programs so that all fields are aware of how IP can be harnessed for development at the individual, corporate institutional and national level.”

In Ghana, fellow MIP graduates John Assan Benson and Elizabeth Ama Boakye are also engaged in outreach programs they hope will result in the utilization of IP to reduce unemployment and slow the “brain drain” in their country. Leading consultants of Intellectual Property Assets Rights Management (IPARM), an IP consultancy and management organization, they are targeting the media as well as training institutions. In March 2010, they organized a two-day seminar covering topics such as branding and IP asset protection and commercialization for more than 450 college students at Takoradi Polytechnic in Ghana.

Mr. Benson and Ms. Boakye hope that their efforts will mobilize large numbers of Ghanaians to pursue training in IP and use that training to stimulate national development. “Ghanaians cannot afford to sit back and watch the world accelerate economic progress with IP in the new digital era,” said Benson.

In their various countries, the graduates of the MIP program at Africa University are undertaking awareness-building and training efforts that range from workshops with institutions of learning and business enterprises, to talk shows on TV and radio that engage policymakers. These efforts are shaping a better understanding of patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and related rights, utility models, industrial designs, traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.

However, Mr. Ncube is taking the work even further. In July, he will begin a Fulbright African Research Scholar Fellowship at the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire, with funding from the U.S. State Department. Based at the International Technology Transfer Institute (ITTI), Mr. Ncube will conduct research on the landmark Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 which is credited with revolutionizing the way U.S. universities handle inventions and innovations.

“I am interested in finding out how American universities have been successful in commercializing their research output,” he said. He is also keen to learn more about how companies partner with universities in the commercialization, export and transfer of new technologies.

About the MIP Program

The Master’s Degree in Intellectual Property (MIP) is jointly offered by Africa University, ARIPO and WIPO.

The program runs for 12 months from May to April and is structured in three parts, as follows:

  • First Part: Distance Learning (3 months) - students take a selected number of IP courses via distance learning;
  • Second Part: Residential (5 months) - students follow courses on site at Africa University in Mutare (Zimbabwe). The course includes a three-week practical training session at ARIPO headquarters in Harare;
  • Third Part: Research and dissertation (4 months) - students write on a selected and approved topic.

The MIP program is designed to enable young professionals to acquire the skills needed to play a leading role in the field of IP. The curriculum is taught by leading academics, legal practitioners and IP experts from the region and offers a comparative approach to IP systems at national, regional and international levels. Students come primarily from academia, research and development institutions or government bodies, to which they generally return upon graduation to serve as trainers in the field of IP.

Twenty fellowships are offered to highly motivated individuals from Africa with a view to contributing to the development of human resources in the field of IP in developing countries. An additional 10 places are reserved for self-sponsored students.

Additional information on the MIP program is available on-line from:

 

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