Pilot project to help universities benefit from IP

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in collaboration with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), has launched a pilot project on the use and application of intellectual property (IP) aimed at fostering innovation in universities and research and development (R&D) institutions by supporting them in their use of IP systems.

With the support of the Japan Patent Office, the WIPO-ARIPO Guidelines on Developing Intellectual Property Policy and strategy were launched at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on 17 September.

According to Loretta Asiedu, senior counsellor at the WIPO Regional Bureau for Africa, the project aims to raise IP awareness among Africa’s R&D community, and contribute more significantly to the development of the continent’s economies.

In the future, African economies will depend heavily on knowledge produced by universities and R&D institutions for development, she said during the launch.

“In this regard, it goes without saying that more attention has to be given to supporting our universities and research institutions by creating incentives, an enabling environment and robust frameworks which foster research, innovation and creativity.”

A study commissioned by WIPO at the request of the 19-member ARIPO revealed a low level of IP awareness, which led to considerable loss of potential revenues due to poor or non-existent frameworks for IP asset management in African universities, Asiedu said.

Opportunities for pioneering discoveries

“It also revealed that several African universities are still engaged only in teaching and basic research activities, and are therefore missing out on the opportunity to become the birthplaces of pioneering discoveries, innovations and inventions that can enhance the quality of lives of millions of Africans."

In addition, the level of knowledge transfer from universities to the private sector remained low, slowing down the transition to knowledge-based value-added economies.

“It is with this realisation in mind that WIPO partnered with ARIPO, and sought the support of the Japan Patent Office in commissioning the development of the guidelines,” she said.

The guidelines were compiled by a team of IP experts with experience in IP teaching and skills development, and are intended to help universities formulate appropriate policy and strategies towards commercialisation and protection of their innovations, Asiedu said.

The guidelines were also adopted by the African regional IP organisation for French-speaking countries, OAPI (Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle).

JKUAT Vice-Chancellor Victoria Ngumi said her institution had created the Directorate of Intellectual Property Management and University-Industry Liaison to collaborate with industries since 2014, thus its preparedness to be selected for the pilot project.

Since then the university had secured 54 IP rights, including eight patents, 15 utility models, 27 trademarks, one industrial design, and three copyrights.

Success story

“In fact, the success story following this establishment has seen institutions within the region visit JKUAT for benchmarking, as well as our staff being invited to set up IP management offices in such organisations,” she said.

Despite its success in regional terms, JKUAT still faces challenges with regard to commercialisation of innovations as a result of general low IP awareness, lack of incubation facilities, and a shortage of skilled manpower such as IP valuers, technology-licensing officers and marketers.

The absence of well-defined commercialisation pathways and weak links with industry also posed challenges, she said.

According to Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), a robust institutional IP regime in universities and R&D institutions would stimulate research and contribute to the overall quality of science, technology and innovation activities.

In partnership with the African Centre for Technology Studies, the commission is conducting a survey of the status of IP management regimes in all institutions in Kenya, according to NACOSTI's Technical Services Director Dr Roy Mugira.

To improve the movement of research from universities to industry, NACOSTI has also partnered with Canada’s International Development Research Centre to establish two research chair programmes at JKUAT and Moi University.

The pilot project is financed by WIPO, with support from the Japan Patent Office under the Japanese Funds-in-Trust for Africa and least developed countries and is being implemented in five institutions chosen in a competitive process that commenced in 2017, ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos told University World News in May.

The universities include JKUAT, Zimbabwe’s Africa University, the Namibia University of Science and Technology, and Ghana’s Koforidua Technical University. Also taking part is Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation.