Using IP to fight poverty

  • 24 February 2006

A pilot television drama aimed at educating young Nigerians about HIV and AIDS was screened for the first time to delegates attending World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) talks in Geneva this week.

A pilot television drama aimed at educating young Nigerians about HIV and AIDS was screened for the first time to delegates attending World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) talks in Geneva this week.

The series, entitled Wetin Day, is the product of a BBC World Service Trust project in Nigeria that aims to nurture and transfer skills to the Nigerian media industry, better known as Nollywood.

The project is an example of how a copyright-based industry has created wealth and employment in a developing country.

In the run up to this week’s talks on a proposed WIPO Development Agenda, company and industry representatives sought to demonstrate how the intellectual property (IP) system can be harnessed for developmental goals. Akim Mogaji, Creative Director of the BBC Trust project, presented his organization’s work at two ICC-hosted panels.

Mr Mogaji stressed that the Nigerian video and film industry, the third largest in the world, could only be sustained if the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy was reduced, and if people – especially the young – were made aware of how copyright could stimulate creativity and growth.

Delegates representing over 40 countries – including Myanmar, Bhutan, Burkina Faso and Nigeria – attended the ICC panel presentations.

The clear message from the ICC sessions is that in view of the increasing importance of intangible assets in the world economy, intellectual property is an essential tool in the development strategies of countries.

Panelist Soonwoo Hong, from WIPO described how Korea had used proactive policies – including the use of intellectual property – to develop from being one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1960s, with a GDP per capita of US $87, to an exporter of high technology products with a GDP per capita of US $14 162 in 2004.

Ana Maria Frieri del Castillo, founding partner of Colombian firm Olarte Raisbeck & Frieri, highlighted both the important role that patents are playing today in Latin America’s growing biotech sector, and the correlation between the strength of intellectual property systems and the size of the biotech industry in each country.

Nicholas Motsatse, Marketing Director and Joint Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Southern African Music Rights Organisation, described perceptions of the intellectual property system in Africa and spoke on the contribution of the copyright industries to the achievement of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. He said: “The discussion relating to IP has to be taken seriously at all times due to its potential to ‘make or break’ nations, more so in these modern times of global economic and business relations.”

Ron Layton, President of Light Years IP (LYIP), demonstrated the key benefits of developing countries concentrating on exploiting their intellectual property assets rather than relying purely on commodities. He described an LYIP project that helped identify the intangible value of quality Ethiopian coffee and which will ultimately allow Ethiopian coffee producers to obtain a larger part of its retail value in export markets. LYIP is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping developing countries use the IP system to alleviate poverty through trade.

Cynthia Cannady from WIPO compared building a nation’s innovation strategy to building a house, for which the foundation was education and whose building blocks included funding, marketing capabilities and IP tools, all bound together by a firm policy commitment.

The current WIPO debate questions whether there is too much focus on increasing intellectual property protection and not enough effort made to facilitate the environment for innovation and creation, especially for developing nations. ICC’s Task Force on Intellectual Property and Development is playing an active role in the debate by sharing concrete experiences of how the IP system has been used in developing nations to create wealth and employment.