AJIC Issue 16, 2015

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Innovation in technology, in production of goods and services, in business processes, in formal and informal economic settings, in electronic media and audio-visual content, in music – all these and other fields of innovation sit on foundations of knowledge, either private or common, appropriated via various mechanisms, including intellectual property (IP) tools. For almost two decades, the movement for access to knowledge (A2K) has slowly emerged, seeking open approaches to appropriation and IP and giving rise to a range of new phenomena for investigation. In the age of the Internet, knowledge can flow easily across borders, across industries and economic sectors, and across and among economic and social interest groups. The availability of rich sources of knowledge for productive innovation can enrich the African continent – it is possible. However, policy, law and regulation have not kept pace with the rapid changes in the availability of knowledge. Outdated policy, law and regulation, or practice, may limit the potential for knowledge resources to have full economic or social impact. These and other research problems are explored in the articles and thematic reports in this thematic issue.

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    Prospects for Open Licensing of Knowledge Materials in Ethiopia
    (2015-12-15) Baraki, Seble
    Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has in the past two decades made significant strides in national educational attainment. However, the country’s educational policy objectives still face numerous barriers. In this piece the author argues that a key challenge for Ethiopia’s education system is access to knowledge (A2K), specifically access to copyright-protected scholarly and learning materials. The author proposes increased use of open-licensed materials, such as those licensed under the Creative Commons (CC) suite of licensing tools, which take a flexible approach to copyright in order to allow users to, inter alia, engage in permission-free copying and re-distribution of the works. Greater use of such open materials would, the author contends, produce cost savings for the Ethiopian government, allowing the state to increase its investments in other key components of the educational system such as facilities, Internet connectivity and teacher training and support.
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    Neglect of the Human Rights Dimension in African IP Policymaking
    (2015-12-15) Rens, Andrew; Pfumorodze, Jimcall
    In this thematic report, the authors, both members of the African Scholars for Knowledge Justice (ASK Justice) network, outline the neglect of human rights in IP policymaking; the need to end this neglect, particularly in the African context; and steps to be taken towards this goal.
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    Strategic Patenting of Pharmaceutical Inventions and the Public’s Right to Access Medicines: The South African Context
    (2015-12-15) Hobololo, Vuyisile
    Pharmaceutical firms’ use of strategic patenting to influence the markets within which their patented inventions sit is legally questionable. Such patenting entails filing patents with the intention of blocking potential competitors from innovating and/or being granted patents within niche technology areas of interest to the patentee. Under this practice, patentees are potentially able to extend the breadth and duration of their monopoly power in the pharmaceutical market sub-sector within which that invention sits. Such practices take on a clear public interest element if they undermine affordable public access to medicines. This thematic report outlines forms of strategic patenting, analyses the degree to which the South African legal system provides remedies against such patenting, and proposes ways forward for South Africa to prevent such practices.
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    Human Capital Barriers to Technological Absorption and Innovation by Ethiopia’s Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs)
    (2015-12-15) Belete, Wondwossen
    Ethiopia’s private sector is dominated by micro and small enterprises (MSEs), many of them operating informally. Accordingly, a key challenge for the country’s science, technology and innovation (STI) policymakers is finding ways to ensure that these small businesses absorb external technological innovations in order to enhance their performance and allow for follow-on innovations. This policy objective has an access to knowledge (A2K) dimension, because Ethiopia’s STI policies and strategies stress the need for improved MSE access to public domain patent information as a means to improving technological absorption. However, research by the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) has found that despite the efforts of the Ethiopian government to foster small-enterprise absorption of public domain technological information contained in patent documents, MSE take-up of such technology tends to be poor (Belete, 2013). In this piece, the author, former EIPO Director of Intellectual Property Policy and Planning, argues that the government’s emphasis needs to be on building human capital in MSEs, in order to improve their capacity to absorb patent information. This argument draws on literature linking technological absorption capacity to human capital levels, along with findings from an Ethiopian government survey of 3,000 MSEs (MUDC, 2013). The author recommends improved MSE collaboration with intermediary organisations such as the country’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions and industry development institutes.
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    Open Innovation and Knowledge Appropriation in African Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs)
    (2015-12-15) De Beer, Jeremy; Armstrong, Chris
    This article seeks enhanced understanding of the dynamics of open innovation and knowledge appropriation in African settings. More specifically, the authors focus on innovation and appropriation dynamics in African micro and small enterprises (MSEs), which are key engines of productivity on the continent. The authors begin by providing an expansion of an emergent conceptual framework for understanding intersections between innovation, openness and knowledge appropriation in African small-enterprise settings. Then, based on this framework, they review evidence generated by five recent case studies looking at knowledge development, sharing and appropriation among groups of small-scale African innovators. The innovators considered in the five studies were found to favour inclusive, collaborative approaches to development of their innovations; to rely on socially-grounded information networks when deploying and sharing their innovations; and to appropriate their innovative knowledge via informal (and, to a lesser extent, semi-formal) appropriation tools.