WIPO Director General Meets Former South African President Nelson Mandela

Geneva, June 25, 2001
Press Updates UPD/2001/138

The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Dr. Kamil Idris, met on June 21, 2001, Mr. Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, for an insightful exchange of views on the value of the intellectual property system in stimulating development and wealth creation. Dr. Idris met Mr. Mandela during a two-day official visit to Pretoria from June 20 to 21, 2001.

Dr. Idris briefed Mr. Mandela on WIPO's efforts to expand the traditional approach to intellectual property which confined the issue to legal and technical parameters. The development aspects of intellectual property today are at the fore of the Organization's concerns. Dr. Idris also pointed out new work being undertaken by WIPO in examining the intellectual property aspects of traditional knowledge, folklore, and genetic resources. Mr. Mandela welcomed this new approach and pointed out Africa's rich cultural heritage and possible contribution in this area. The former South African President stressed that the developing world in general could make a valuable contribution in this debate.

Dr. Idris also reviewed recent trends in intellectual property and the growing significance of intellectual property as a powerful policy instrument in an era when knowledge and information are increasingly driving economic, social and cultural development. The intellectual property system captures the value of intangible assets, which are fast superceding tangible assets such as land, labor and capital as key components of wealth creation and economic development. Mr. Mandela agreed that a strong and balanced intellectual property regime helps boost the flow of investments into developing countries by assuring investors that their technology is well protected.

These issues were also raised during meetings with senior government officials including, Dr. Alistair Ruiters, Director General of the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. McDonald Netshitenzhe, Registrar of Patents, Trademarks and Designs, Dr. Ntsaluba, Director General, Department of Health, Dr. Rob Adam, Director General, Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and Dr. M.W. Serote, Chairman, National Indigenous Knowledge System Steering Committee. Discussions focused on the particular needs of South Africa with respect to intellectual property and areas of future cooperation between WIPO and South Africa.

During the meetings, the role of intellectual property in stimulating innovation and creativity was discussed. Dr. Idris emphasized the key role of the intellectual property system in promoting and stimulating research and development in all areas. For instance, in the area of health, the Director General said that without the patent system, new and better drugs needed to combat disease would not be developed. Without the patent system, key technical information on new drugs would be kept secret, and researchers and manufacturers would have to reinvent the wheel.

In talks with Dr. M.W. Serote, Chairman, National Indigenous Knowledge System Steering Committee, the Director General also explained WIPO's activities in the field of traditional knowledge, folklore and access to genetic resources. Dr. Serote briefed the Director General on recent legislative initiatives taken by South Africa to protect traditional knowledge. In light of South Africa's experience, Dr. Idris encouraged Pretoria to share its experience and expertise with other countries who are engaged in this field.

Dr. Idris also addressed a gathering of some 60 dignitaries, including Supreme Court judges, university professors, intellectual property practitioners, senior government officials, heads of research institutions and representatives of non-governmental organizations to discuss a range of intellectual property issues. In the course of the debate, particular emphasis was placed on promoting the use of the intellectual property system by small and medium-sized enterprises, the protection of traditional knowledge, folklore and access to genetic resources, copyright and technical cooperation among developing countries.

South Africa has been a member of WIPO since 1975 and is party to a total of five WIPO-administered international treaties in the field of intellectual property.

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