Transfer Pricing Associates

Patent Balance: South Africa

post Tuesday November 26, 2013

Tags: conference, intangibles, ip, muofhe, patents, south africa


“Science has to be accessible to everyone who needs it”, were the words of Mmboneni Muofhe, deputy director-general for international cooperation and resources at the South African Department of Science and Technology. Muofhe spoke at a conference entitled “Creating and leveraging intellectual property in developing countries”, held in between the 17 and 20 of November. He went on to talk about the role of administrations and asserted that there is one crucial objective of governments: “to make sure the quality of life of our people is improved”.

The double-edge of IP policy

The IP oriented conference was the second version of a previous conference with the same title, which took place in 2011. On the one hand, the initiative is much appreciated by humanitarian organizations. But on the other hand, it brings up worries about the future of IP in South Africa, particularly at a time where India has already pioneered a liberal access to patents in its jurisdiction. Understandably, foreign investors believe in the growth of South Africa, but fear for the defensibility of the patent environment if it is to change into a more liberal form. At this moment, South Africa is working on revamping its policy on intangibles. Until next year, when the conclusion of the new policy is awaited, plenty of lobbying is to be expected. But so far a draft has already been made public and it has received more support from the humanitarian community than from the business community, with a perspective to support public interest above attracting FDI.

Muofhe elaborated on how IP must be carefully balanced in order to allow social needs to be fulfilled while not over-deterring the interest of potential investors. He said this balanced could be found, and referred to the arguments on the topic, stating that “it gets emotive because it is emotive. It gets rough because it is rough”. In supporting his point that people should come first, he mentioned the amount of money that has been injected in research, defending that such an amount of money must bring benefits to the people.

Halfway solutions

Derek Hanekom, South African Minister of Science and Technology, also talked in the conference. His words may have reassured the business community, stating his position that South Africa wants to become a knowledge-based economy rather than resource-based one. To this effect he highlighted the importance of IP, with due caution nonetheless. He presented the count-point as follows: “the greatest level of economic efficiency occurs with the widest possible dissemination of new knowledge”.  “The challenge for developing countries is to reform their IP regimes, while limiting the potentially adverse effects of improved protection, and to facilitate the access of local entrepreneurs to the IPR system”, Hanekom summed up.

How can South Africa moderate between an overly protective patent system and one that may deter investment? It has been proposed that a separate system could be adopted for drugs, as argued by Sherry Knowles, who defended patent protection during the conference. This would allow for a unique protection system for drugs to allow public access to needed medical care, while still allowing other forms of technology to be more rigorously protected by law. Such a way has already been trailed by India and its aggressive stands on access to drug patents.

Source:  ip-watch

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