Bridging the IP knowledge gap in developing countries

April 2013

By R. Mark Davis, President and CEO and Emilie van den Berkhof, Pro Bono Coordinator, Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA)

What if an inventor, public interest organization, indigenous group, small or medium-sized business, or even a developing country’s intellectual property (IP) office needed IP legal counsel but could not afford it or did not have local access to the required knowledge? What would they do? How would they be able to protect their IP assets or access the information they needed? One option is to take advantage of the pro bono (free) legal counsel provided by the US-based international nonprofit organization, Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA).

PIIPA is working with agricultural producers in developing
countries to help them generate higher and more
sustainable incomes by using IP to improve the brand
value of their products. (Photos: courtesy of PIIPA)

IP resources at the right time and in the right place

If people are to enjoy the benefits of the law, including IP law, they need access to an effective system of justice. Only a fraction of the world’s population, however, has the knowledge and financial means to take advantage of IP legislation and use it to promote innovation and creativity. Established in 2002, PIIPA’s overriding objective is to help bridge this gap. PIIPA primarily focuses on operating a matchmaking service allowing those seeking IP assistance (seekers) to apply to find individual volunteers or teams of IP specialists (providers) who offer free advice and legal representation on IP matters.

PIIPA uses three criteria to determine which requests for assistance to accept.

First, it determines whether the activity for which PIIPA’s assistance is sought is in the public interest and supportive of the interests of developing countries. Second, using a financial, needs-based test, it assesses whether the seeker has the financial means to pay for professional assistance in the absence of PIIPA’s pro bono assistance. And third, it applies an organizational test to determine eligibility. Certain types of seekers, for example, such as developing country governments and agencies, are automatically eligible for PIIPA’s services. Other organizations, such as nonprofit organizations and developing country individuals or businesses, generally have to satisfy at least one of the three eligibility criteria.

PIIPA’s global volunteer workforce

PIIPA’s “IP Corps” consists of 3,500 IP professionals in 50 countries who volunteer their time to meet the IP needs of innovators in developing economies. PIIPA’s stable of IP experts now includes many of the world’s largest law firms, hundreds of individual attorneys, and representatives from the academic and corporate sectors. This dedicated group of volunteers has provided free IP services, training, symposia and support for over 130 clients in 35 developing countries.

Promoting IP for development

PIIPA is a US-based international nonprofit
organization that works to help bridge the
IP knowledge gap in developing countries.

PIIPA is dedicated to supporting the longer-term IP interests of people and organizations in developing economies, through a range of training materials and programs on how IP rights may be applied (or challenged). PIIPA’s programs include web-based discussion groups, lectures, forums, panel discussions and conferences. The organization also maintains an online resource center that offers information for professionals, students and assistance seekers. These information resources are free of charge and may be used as long as they are identified as PIIPA materials.

PIIPA offers a unique range of services and operates in a variety of sectors, including: agriculture; biodiversity/genetic resources; traditional knowledge; health care; information technology; and science and technology. At the heart of its mission is the belief that “fair access equals just results!”

In its groundbreaking book entitled Intellectual Property and Human Development: Current Trends and Future Scenarios published in 2011, PIIPA examines the social impact of IP laws as they relate to health, food security, education, new technologies, preservation of biocultural heritage, as well as contemporary challenges associated with promoting the arts. It explores how IP frameworks could be better calibrated to meet the socioeconomic needs of countries at different stages of development, with local contexts and culture in mind.

Carlos A. Primo Braga, Director, Economy Policy and Debt at the World Bank, notes that the book "takes up many of the critical issues concerning the future of intellectual property regimes in a globalized economy. By bringing a human development perspective to the analyses of the costs and benefits of IP, this collection underscores not only the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in this area, but also the need to think innovatively about ‘communal’ forms of innovation. This effort by PIIPA will become an important point of reference for all those interested in analyzing how IP can become an effective tool for human development."


Boosting the value of Colombian agriculture

In June 2012, PIIPA and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) launched a project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency to generate higher and more sustainable income for agricultural producers, using IP to improve the brand value of their products.

Colombia boasts a rich array of tropical fruits, and leveraging the development potential of its biologically diverse resources is a high national priority. The production and processing of high-value tropical fruits offer an effective means of raising the incomes of small farmers and rural communities.

PIIPA is working with Nigerian artists and filmmakers to
tackle piracy of Nollywood films in the US.

Since the mid-1990s, a great deal of research has focused on characterizing the genetic diversity of fruit species, such as papaya and various passiflora (passion fruit) species, which have significant commercial value and income-generating potential. The knowledge generated from this research is essential for improving the varieties currently produced and for identifying new fruit options that might appeal to consumers in foreign markets. Top agricultural goods currently include coffee, fruits (bananas), fresh flowers, live trees and plants, and sugar.

The project has three components. The first phase involved a countrywide agricultural IP review. This baseline report examined which institution(s) and/or businesses, or growers, generate the greatest quantity of potentially protectable or patentable inventions of high-value agricultural products and the frequency with which these inventions are being patented. The second stage of the project relates to IP capacity building. In January 2013, at CIAT’s headquarters in Cali, Colombia, PIIPA, in collaboration with the Colombian IP office (La Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio) and the Ministry of Commerce ProExport office, conducted an IP and export training program for agricultural producers from across the country. The final component involves the provision of one-to-one IP counsel for selected small and medium-sized producers to enhance their IP strategies and make recommendations for trademark registrations and patent applications.

This project has highlighted the importance of implementing an IP-focused national agricultural research policy and of securing IP rights within such a policy framework. There is now demand to replicate the training program in other Colombian cities and to conduct similar projects in neighboring countries.

Operation NAP

PIIPA has also been working with the African Artists Collaborative (AAC) and the Filmmakers Association of Nigeria USA (FAN-USA) to tackle the pirating of Nollywood films in the US. An IP strategy was rolled out in 2008 involving:

  • a copyright registration campaign;
  • use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to persuade Internet service providers (ISPs) that streaming a work is in violation of US copyright laws and infringes artists' copyrights;
  • cease and desist letters issued to US store fronts; and
  • a logo initiative entitled Copyrighted in the US with major African film distributors to increase awareness about the protection that copyright provides.

To date, the project has registered over 100 African films and removed infringing materials from over 50 websites. As a result of these efforts the three legitimate distributors who account for 90 percent of all Nollywood-distributed films in the US saw revenues increase by 20 percent.

For centuries, African visual art, music, literature, textiles, clothing, and now films, have been exported to exponentially expanding global markets. African artists have long been at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the Americas and Europe. A huge amount of music, film, art and other African works is being pirated openly in Africa, the US and Europe within niche markets which boast that no legal repercussions will arise from their flagrant disregard of copyright law. This is a serious drain on the earning capacity of African artists and producers who travel to the US and elsewhere. It is also the source of a great deal of frustration as these artists often do not have access to legal representation and, as a consequence, are rarely able to gain any compensation or legal redress.

Operation NAP is helping Nollywood filmmakers to secure their IP rights and is creating value for an entire industry. Furthermore, it gave the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) confidence to fund the first-ever A-list Nigerian/US production, Doctor Bello released in 2012.

The road ahead

For over a decade, PIIPA has remained committed to serving the IP needs of innovators and public interest organizations in developing countries. We invite all who believe they have an IP need to apply for assistance. We are also working with international partners, such as WIPO, to develop projects that promote IP as a development tool to create economic opportunity.

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.