Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

Intellectual property for an emerging Africa

October 2015

By Francis Gurry, Director General, WIPO

The African Ministerial Conference 2015: Intellectual Property for an Emerging Africa co-organized by the Government of Senegal and WIPO in cooperation with the African Union (AU), and the Japan Patent Office in Dakar, Senegal from November 3 to 5, is an opportunity to explore the relevance of intellectual property (IP) to African economies and its role in supporting the development of vibrant innovation ecosystems and creative industries across the continent.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (Photo: WIPO/Berrod)

In the global knowledge economy, innovation, creativity and IP hold far-reaching promise for spurring economic growth, trade and employment in countries at all stages of development. Realizing this promise, however, is not automatic. Each nation must find the right mix of policies to mobilize the innate innovative and creative potential of its economy.

Today, the intellectual component of production is far greater than in the past and IP is an indispensable mechanism for translating that know-how into a tradeable commercial asset and capturing the competitive advantage that it represents.

IP rights establish a secure legal framework for investment in - and commercialization of - innovation and creativity, enabling firms, including innovative start-ups, to navigate the perilous process of transforming an idea into a commercially viable product and to compete with success in the global marketplace, while safeguarding the public interest. As such, IP is a key factor in creating an environment in which innovation and creativity can flourish and generate future growth and prosperity.

It can only deliver these benefits, however, when the IP system is based on an appropriate policy mix that balances the often competing interests of producers on the one hand and consumers on the other hand. This is the challenge that faces policy-makers in Africa and across the world.

Over the years, the main IP focus in Africa has been to establish and develop basic IP infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, capacity-building, and human capital. The goal now is to put these IP tools to work in support of the economic objectives of African economies.


Africa has a great tradition of innovation and creativity and has extraordinary creative resources but has often struggled to realize their full economic potential. That is changing. Increasingly, African economies are seeking to add value to their innovative and creative resources through the IP system.

Although African economies still face many competing and compelling policy priorities, innovation and IP are slowly but surely rising up the African policy agenda.

I believe that Africa is on the cusp of something new and exciting. Today, the continent is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies and African nations are embracing the opportunities afforded by the knowledge economy and the digital revolution to reduce poverty, enhance agricultural productivity, and boost industrial competitiveness in their drive to secure sustainable and inclusive development.

The 2015 Global Innovation Index (GII) reveals positive developments in the African innovation landscape. Mauritius, South Africa and Senegal top the Sub-Saharan Africa rankings this year, and a growing number of African economies are punching above their economic weight in the area of innovation. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, low-income economies like Rwanda, Mozambique and Malawi are now performing on a par with middle-income economies. Similarly, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, and Uganda are generally outperforming other economies with similar levels of development. Despite limited means, these African economies are proving efficient in translating the investments they make in innovation and the creative economy into concrete outputs.

The African Ministerial Conference 2015 is an opportunity to explore with policy- and thought-leaders how IP can best support the scientific and technological transformation of African economies, and to deepen understanding of the strategic importance of IP as a driver of economic and social development and poverty reduction across the continent.

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.