Special Guest Contributor Mr. James Maridadi, Founding Trustee, International Panel of Legislators Advancing African IP (IPLA), joins us for an interview in the 1st edition of AllThingsIP Africa magazine to discuss his role and ambition in advancing African IP through Parliament.
Can you tell us about IPLA and your role as founding trustee?
IPLA is a network of African Parliamentarians (Legislators) who came together for the purpose of coming up with laws and policies that effectively protect and advance African Intellectual Property, especially the Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs). My role as the founding Trustee is to ensure that the organisation is fully functional and plays its role in ensuring that African IP is adequately protected and advanced.
How does IPLA intend to cooperate and work with the other bodies (African Union, Pan African Parliament, AfCFTA Secretariat etc.) in achieving this?
We see ourselves as a baby of the Pan African Parliament (PAP) and by extension the African Union (AU). PAP is in the process of transforming itself into a fully-fledged legislative body. This will obviously be a huge plus for IPLA as it will work directly with PAP to bring about legislative change to the numerous legal regimes that have inherent structural weakness which have resulted in inadequate protection of IP in their respective jurisdictions. IPLA will push through PAP policies which will ensure that international protocols are ratified timeously so that the continent does not always have to play catch up in international IP spaces. IPLA will also lobby through the continental body for Africa to advance international protocols that tip the scale to the advantage of African IP. Bodies like AfCFTA are natural partners of IPLA. IPLA seeks to leverage every African body which has to do with international trade for the benefit of IP. It is IPLA’s contention that African IP, especially traditional knowledge, must be viewed as commodities of trade with capacity to turn around the fortunes of the continent. Only when IPLA leverages bodies like AfCFTA can this dream be realised.
What are some of the current challenges in the advancement of IP in Africa and what do you think is required to navigate these challenges?
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the organisation’s roll-out plan. The pandemic started soon after the launch of IPLA in Addis Ababa. The other challenge is resources, especially finance. IPLA thrives on research and parliamentary motions when parliaments are sitting. Before this can happen there is a need to train stakeholders including parliamentarians on intellectual property.
Can you walk us through any projects you are really proud of, the work involved and the outcome?
More than 20 parliaments across the continent contribute members to IPLA meaning that IPLA has a presence in more than 20 legislatures in Africa. The long-term plan being to have all legislatures involved.
What does an ideal African IP system look like as the vision of IPLA?
An ideal IP system is that which realises the trade potential of IP and effectively turns it into dollars and cents for the greater good of the continent and knowledge holders in the case of Traditional Knowledge (TK).
How important is the role of legislators and Parliamentarians in appreciating the role of IP in Africa?
Parliamentarians are the engine room that drives laws and policies that advance and transform IP. Without the involvement of parliaments, we are essentially groping in darkness and the dangers of that are there for all to see.
How important is cooperation among member states, especially in ratifying protocols?
It’s either countries cooperate or unfortunately they simply falter.
When can Africa begin to benefit from these efforts and what will early success look like?
IPLA will soon announce a training program for parliamentarians. This will be informed by research which is currently ongoing. The research is focusing on laws of the different jurisdictions with the aim of establishing gaps that we hope will be unplugged by legislators via their role of law making. As soon as IPLA starts rolling out the training, it should not take long before we start to see results.
The AfCFTA is being heralded as a global game changer and will set an example for the world. What are your thoughts on this opinion in the context of IP?
The AfCFTA is indeed a refreshing development in Africa. It will certainly bring economic change to the continent via close cooperation in trade and commerce. Since IPLA is pushing the narrative that IP should be viewed as commodities of trade and commerce, this only shows the level of synergy and the symbiotic relationship that must exist between the two. The success of AfCFTA is invariably the success of IPLA.
James is Zimbabwe’s envoy to Senegal and The Gambia. He is a former legislator in the Parliament of Zimbabwe and the Founding Trustee of the International Panel of Legislators Advancing African IP (IPLA). He is passionate about the contextual protection of African intellectual property and commercialisation approaches that benefit the continent.