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IP and Development: Tunisia – Developing a Knowledge Economy

September 2007

Oil is a dwindling resource in Tunisia. Production from the country’s two main fields is declining and, though ongoing exploration has yielded small fields, supplies are expected to last only about a decade at the current rate of production. To offset the blow to the economy when the wells dry, and to increase the competitiveness of its other industries, the Tunisian government’s Development Plans X (2002-2006) and XI (2007-2011) are geared toward building a knowledge-based economy. The government believes that Tunisia’s cultural and geographical proximity to Europe gives it certain advantages over Asian countries, which will attract investors once necessary structures are put in place.

Plans X and XI focus on policy reform in education, stimulating research and development through the creation of technology poles, increasing access to the Internet and strengthening the country’s intellectual property (IP) system.  

Tunisia has a long IP history: It was one of the first countries to sign the Bern and Paris Conventions; and the first pan-African copyright law was signed in Tunisia and named after the country. Tunisia has modernized and reformed its IP system over the last ten years, bringing it up to date with international standards.

Technology poles

With the IP infrastructure in place, Plan X reformed the secondary education system to strengthen teaching in technology, economics and management, math, sciences and the arts. A growing number of high school graduates now go on to higher education, which is producing over 50,000 graduates a year. The government hopes to attract them to work in the country’s technology poles/parks (called techno-poles) rather than seek employment abroad. 

Tunisia’s techno-poles aim to promote and accelerate innovation by linking enterprises, universities and research centers. Each techno-pole has an area of specialization which depends on the region in which it is established. The Borj Cédria pole, for example, deals with renewable energy and vegetal biotechnology, the Sidi Thabet pole biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, the Sfax pole computer systems and multi media, etc. 

How do they work? Take, for example, the El-Ghazala technology and communication park, which opened in 2001. The services of the El-Ghazala are available to all companies involved in technology and communication, whether or not they are located in the park or even in Tunisia. Its objectives are to help set up technology companies in the park by providing all the resources they need on site; to stimulate cooperation between universities researchers and private enterprise to bring research products to market; to promote the development and distribution of telecommunication services that respond to business needs locally and abroad; and to participate in economic development by working with public authorities. The El-Ghazala techno-pole also offers incentives to businesses to promote innovation in technology and information. 

The Tunisian Institut d’économie quantitative conducted a survey of the 51 companies installed in the 65-hectar El-Ghazala park in 2005 to gauge how they had benefited from the services of the techno-pole. Almost 50 percent said the techno-pole had contributed to the development and expansion of their export market, 90 percent reported an increase in R&D – 30 percent of those had done so in collaboration with local universities – and 50 percent reported that 10 to 40 percent of their investments were now in intangible assets. As a result over 40 percent had developed at least two new products during the previous five years and 46 percent had patent applications pending. Some 53 percent reported that they had attracted foreign capital investment.

Analyzing strengths and weaknesses

In 2007, at the start of Plan XI, the Tunisian government requested assistance from WIPO in conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of the country’s IP system. The results of the analysis highlighted the following:

political will to leverage IP as a key to economic growth

need for greater coordination and communication among government, private sector and academic stakeholders

availability of financial resources and of a highly educated work force

shortage of IP service providers (patent drafters, negotiators for licenses and other IP-related contracts, technology managers)

incentive programs to encourage innovation

identifying innovation areas in which Tunisia has a competitive advantage

the national R&D system

identifying potential markets for the commercialization of research results

modern legislative system

reticence by the banks to invest in projects based on IP assets

existence of an IP valuation system

Focusing on the areas of weakness highlighted by the SWOT analysis, WIPO and the Tunisian government signed a cooperation agreement on July 12, 2007, which will determine a new program of technical assistance and capacity building to be provided by WIPO.

Cultural industries

Technology is not the only area in which Tunisia is seeking to improve the economic future for its people. The government is also investing in its cultural industries –cinematography, publishing, handicrafts and cultural heritage – as a means of contributing to the country’s sustainable development.

The elegant Cage de Sidi Bou Saïd (white wrought iron cage at left) usually placed in front of homes in the Medina may be made into trademarks for Tunisian handicrafts. (Photo http://lilia.bennour.free.fr)

Handicrafts, for example, currently contribute 3.8 percent to Tunisia’s GDP and account for 2.66 percent of its exports. But a government conducted economic study showed that the sector had the potential to double its contribution to GDP and more than triple its contribution to exports by 2016. In pursuit of this goal, the government has implemented measures, described below, to revitalize the industry and breathe a new spirit of competition and creativity into Tunisian artisans. 

The government is extending the 1999 law relating to appellations of origin, which currently only protects agricultural products, to cover the works of Tunisian artisans, such as Berber carpets, Djerba pottery and ceramics. WIPO is also providing legislative advice to the national IP office, the Institut national de la normalisation et de la propriété intellectuelle (INNORPI) and to the artisans’ association, the Office national de l’Artisanat, to assist them in introducing a geographical indications law, which would offer more flexibility than the appellations of origin law for protecting handicrafts. Two new trademarks will also be created: La cage de Sidi Bousaid and the Porte Bleue de Tunis. Both hold meaning for Tunisia’s artisans and are instantly recognizable.

Villages de l’artisanat (handicraft villages) have been created to promote and commercialize the works of artisans and to protect and preserve Tunisia’s traditional knowledge and cultural heritage. 

Tunisia offers diverse scenery for filmmakers as well as inexpensive, highly trained film technicians. (Photos.com)


The Carthage Film Festival, created in 1966 by the Tunisian Minister of culture to showcase films from the Maghreb, Africa and the Middle East, is held every two years in October. The Federation of African Film Directors was also born in Tunisia in 1970. Tunisian cinema is rich and diversified, including most genres – action films, social exposés, dramas and comedies – and critically acclaimed films like Ferid Boughedir's "Halfaouine," which featured at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, and Moufida Tlatli's "The Silences of the Palace," which won a Special Prize at the 1994 Cannes Festival.

Tunisia has also became a popular shooting location for blockbusters requiring exotic locales, beginning with Star Wars in the mid-1970s – Anakin’s Skywalker’s childhood home on the planet Tatooine is a real village in southern Tunisia – and subsequently attracting such films as The English Patient and the Indiana Jones series.

Tunisia offers diverse scenery for filmmakers as well as inexpensive, highly trained film technicians. A newly created cinematography and audiovisuals techno-pole is set to open this year. Young trainees have returned from hands-on training in production and post-production processes in France, as well as with Tunisian film companies, and have already taken possession of the premises, eager to practice their skills. 

Building a solid future

Having developed a comprehensive strategy to build a knowledge-based economy, Tunisia’s Plan X reformed the educational system, modernized the IP infrastructure, and started creating technology poles and incentive programs to stimulate innovation. Plan XI will build on these elements, addressing the weaknesses identified in the WIPO SWOT analysis and focusing more closely on stimulating growth in the cultural industries.


World Summit on the Information Society
In November 2005, Tunisia hosted the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), welcoming some 50 heads of states and over 18,000 delegates to Tunis for the three-day event.


The Tunis Summit built on the first WSIS held in Geneva in December 2003 by focusing on financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, on Internet governance and related issues, as well as on implementation and follow-up of the Geneva and Tunis decisions. The Summit recognized the positive impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an instrument for sustainable development and urged governments to enhance the ICT capacity of small, medium and micro enterprises as they are the principal source of employment in most economies.

Information technology is one of the key areas in which Tunisia had made huge strides as part of its program for economic development, thus the country has an important role to play in reducing the digital divide between advanced and developing countries.


By Sylvie Castonguay, WIPO Magazine Editorial Staff, Communications and Public Outreach Division

Acknowlegements: Fatima Daboussi, WIPO Technical Assistance and Capacity Building Bureau for Arab Countries

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.