The world commemorated the World Intellectual Property Day on 26 April 2019. As the commemorations came and are now gone, it’s imperative that Zimbabwe takes stock of what has been achieved or done that relates to intellectual property (IP) matters over the last 12 months. Two things happened that are significant to IP in Zimbabwe. These were the launch of the National Intellectual Property Policy and Implementation Strategy 2018-2022 in June 2018 and the coming to life of the Doctrine for the Modernisation and Industrialisation of Zimbabwe through Education, Science and Technology Development. This opinion piece will focus on the Doctrine and what it promises for the IP fraternity in the country.
The Doctrine published in 2018 by the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development (MHTESTD) sets out the guiding principles and values for the higher and tertiary education, science and technology (S&T) development. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the Government’s 2030 vision of transforming Zimbabwe into an upper-middle-class economy. What is critical to point out is that this is not the first time Zimbabwe has put in place a vision or policy statement expected to transform the social and economic fortunes of the country. Key questions which then arises are, has the goals and aspirations from previous visions and policy statements been attained? If not, where the policy or vision aspirations realistic enough? Or these documents contained bookshelves policy aspirations copied and pasted from somewhere. Some of these questions will remain to be answered on another day.
From an IP perspective, one previous policy document comes to mind because of the promise it carried about developing the IP filing capabilities for the country, which is Zimbabwe’s Second Science and Technology Policy of 2012. The policy is one document that had a lot of promise for the IP and R&D. One of its objectives was to accelerate the commercialization of research results. For this to be achieved the policy called for the strengthening of the national IP rights regime with a particular focus on promotion and facilitation of registration of patents. The policy also sought to establish funds dedicated to the commercialisation of research results. This would help forge linkages between tertiary institutions and industry thus harnessing research results for commercialization. While the policy goals seemed visionary, most of the goals would never come to full fruition in the absence of a National IP Policy and Implementation Strategy (NIPPIS) which was only put in place in June 2018.
The Doctrine which also includes the concept of Education 5.0 does seem to have escaped the Second S&T policy fate caused by the absence of a national IP policy. When the Doctrine 5.0 came into place the NIPPIS was already in place. It’s almost a year after the NIPPIS and Doctrine were put in place but a quick environmental scan reveals that only four universities out of the more than forty (40) higher and tertiary institutions have approved intellectual property policies in place. Education 5.0 acknowledges the role of higher and tertiary education institutions in economic growth, technology transfer and generation of new knowledge.
Economic growth will remain a pipeline dream in an environment that does not have IP generation, acquisition, protection and enforcement starting at an institutional level. Currently, as it stands the NIPPIS will remain a floating policy that can never walk. This is because the legs that carry and enable the national IP policy to walk in any particular direction are the institutional IP policies from academia, research, private and government institutions. The economy cannot grow in an environment where investments cannot be recouped as a result of the importation of “me too” products and cheap imitations which are sold at a fraction of a price. The idea of technology transfer is noble but cannot be viably done in an IP environment that is not grounded on the requisite institutional IP policy framework. Most technology transfer is done through licensing agreements or collaborations between those who have invented, tested and developed the technologies. As such, it must be mandatory for all academic, research, and government institutions to have IP policies as they are critical in shaping the technology transfer agreements.
The Doctrine makes emphasis that education that does not produce goods and services is not relevant at all. MHTESTD notes that its major aim is to develop and deliver a higher education system that generates knowledge which results in the goods and services. However, of concern is the fact that Education in Zimbabwe, especially Education 3.0 did not result in any direct development of industries. As a result, it is evident that there is a disconnect between knowledge gained in the HTE and the requirements of the industry. The disconnect we hope, the Doctrine will correct as it brings in Education 5.0 that is premised on five principles which are teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation. Education 3.0 did not have innovation and industrialisation pillars, maybe, just maybe that’s why it failed to lead to the establishment of new industries from higher and tertiary education institutions in Zimbabwe.
Prior to the establishment of the new doctrine, the higher education sector was focused on three pillars which are teaching, research and community services popularly referred to as Education 3.0. This means that issues of IP protection particularly patents and utility models were insignificant in the higher education sector. The biggest output of Education 3.0 were research publications, workshops and conference presentations. Academic promotions in Zimbabwe were and are still based on publications ‘copyrights’ so the concepts of education that come out with commercially exploited products and services “patents, utility models and industrial designs” remained just a theory. However, Education 5.0 comes with the addition of two new pillars Innovation and industrialisation protection of IP with a focus on patents and Utility Models becomes critical for higher and tertiary institutions. The Doctrine posits innovation as being the bridge between knowledge produced from learning and industrial production where three critical processes legal services, marketing services and product specific technical services converge. The Intellectual property issues are both technical and legal hence for this bridge to be functional IP generation, protection, management and commercialisation should be built in higher and tertiary institutions if the promise that the doctrine is showing is to be fulfilled.
The doctrine has the potential to change the focus and level of intellectual property output produced in higher and tertiary education institutions from copyrights to commercially exploited patents, utility models and industrial designs. It is when we start to see an increase in local registration of patents, utility models, industrial designs and creation trade secrets portfolios by higher education institutions that we can confirm that the doctrine is bearing fruits. One thing that the country should immediately address if the doctrine is to bear the expected fruits is put in place a utility model law. This is law is critical if were are to develop the technology transfer and patenting capacity required for the country.