Intellectual property rights in Africa

Today, most African countries have yet to adopt a legal system that protects intellectual property. Typically such protections are achieved through patents (a guarantee of monopoly for an invention for a limited time), trademarks (a distinctive name identifying the source of goods or service), or copyrights (an exclusive right to use or license to others).

Without intellectual property rights, innovators have no assurance they will recoup the costs they incurred in development, make a profit, or control the sharing of their knowledge to others. The results have been devastating, says the Liberales Institut:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa's share of world trade has declined from 3.1 percent in 1955 to 1.2 percent in 1990.

  • About 70 percent of the African population remains locked in agricultural industries, forgoing potentially promising industries of tourism, retail and technology.

    Moreover, African intellectuals are often harassed and treated with suspicion. The continent continues to lose many of its intellectuals to other wealthy nations because the latter provide better pay and recognition for their hard work.

    Ultimately, says the Liberales Institut, what belongs to everyone belongs to no one and hence falls into disrepair. This has been particularly true in Africa's health sector: few have been willing to tackle diseases of poverty, such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, cholera and dysentery, without proper financial incentives for successful innovation.

    Source: James Shikwati, Do Intellectual Property Rights Harm Africa? Occasional Paper 4, Liberales Institut, November 2003.

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    For more on International (Economic Freedom)

    FMF Policy Bulletin\17 May 2004
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