International Conference, Respect for IP – Growing from the Tip of Africa: Foreword

September 2018

The International Conference, Respect for IP – Growing from the Tip of Africa, in Sandton, South Africa, from October 23 to 25, 2018, is an opportunity to foster dialogue and ideas to support the development of a balanced and effective system for the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights.

Rory Voller Commissioner, Companies and Intellectual Property
Commission, South Africa (Photo: WIPO/Violaine Martin)

More than 400 participants including government officials, policymakers, law makers, entrepreneurs and lawyers will cover a broad range of issues from the economic value of IP and its public rationale, to the daily practical challenges facing those on the front line of IP enforcement.

In South Africa, we regard the IP system as an important policy instrument for promoting innovation, technology transfer, research and development, industrial development and economic growth. However, public understanding of the benefits of IP remains incomplete in South Africa and many other countries. Consumers are often unaware of the socio-economic risks associated with the illegal trade in counterfeit goods and piracy and the threats it can pose to their health and well-being, to legitimate businesses, to employment and to the ability of governments to fund social services. This illegal trade poses significant challenges to all those who are seeking to convert national economic development aspirations into concrete social and economic progress.

This conference offers a timely and important opportunity to reflect on the important role that IP rights play in supporting value creation and economic performance. Participants will also be able to explore available options, mechanisms and systems to more effectively build respect for and enforce IP rights. 

I applaud INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for organizing this important event in cooperation with South Africa’s Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

History shows us that strategic use of IP is a means by which countries can break out of poverty and underdevelopment. Countries that have enjoyed economic success over the years have, without exception, nurtured clusters of forward-looking, high-value industrial activities that generate sizeable returns on investment.

This understanding has informed policymaking in South Africa as well as Africa’s recognition that its sustainable development is dependent, in great measure, on pursuing structural transformation of its economies through industrialization and strategic use of IP.

Over the last decade, Sub-Saharan African countries have shown impressive economic growth, often outpacing advanced economies and other emerging and developing economies. Africa’s abundant natural resources, the expanding consumer power of Africa’s emerging middle class and favorable demographics, offer enormous potential for sustainable economic growth and development across the continent.

However, Africa’s growth path has been based primarily on commodity exports, particularly to Asian countries, and strong consumption by a burgeoning middle class. There is a now widening consensus among African leaders that economic sustainability hinges on the structural transformation of Africa’s economic base – a process that involves harnessing African creative and innovative capacities by catalyzing the development of an enabling environment where innovation and creativity can thrive and that is underpinned by a balanced, effective and widely-respected IP system.  

Few countries deny the importance of IP rights and the need to respect them. IP can support and enhance the legitimate economic aspirations of all developing countries, including least developed countries, in developing and leveraging the value of their productive human and natural resources. But without broad understanding of the role that IP rights play and effective systems in place to acquire and enforce those rights, such efforts are hamstrung.

The illegal trade in counterfeit goods and piracy undermines efforts across the board to boost a country’s fortunes; it siphons the life-blood of the creative sector, inhibits innovation, undermines legitimate business development and threatens employment creation and a government’s ability to fund social services.

As countries pursue their ambitions to achieve sustainable development, they cannot afford to ignore the need to raise public IP awareness of the need to respect IP rights. Such a goal is as important as putting into place balanced and effective IP systems and enforcement mechanisms that foster local innovation, creativity and public welfare.

Developments in South Africa

South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) calls for greater emphasis on innovation, improved productivity and more intensive pursuit of a knowledge economy. The strategic use of IP has a central role to play in achieving that objective.

South Africa has had a long history of IP protection and, as signatory to major international treaties, we seek to ensure that appropriate balances are struck in providing protection to spur innovation on the one hand, and in sharing the benefits of innovation in society on the other hand. That also includes an emphasis on building respect for IP rights. We are committed to ensuring that South Africa’s IP regime supports our broader national development objectives, including in the area of industrial development. And we recognize that this involves raising broad public awareness about the role that IP rights can play in supporting those goals.

This conference is an opportunity for thought leaders to come together to exchange ideas and experiences on ways to galvanize public support and respect for IP rights to help drive African economic, cultural, social and technological development in the years ahead. It will also help to boost awareness of the benefits that effective and strategic use of IP can bring, and ensure that appropriate action is taken to tackle IP crime. The continent’s economic progress depends on it.

I wish you all a successful conference.

Rory Voller, Commissioner, Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, South Africa

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