Supporting IP education in Africa
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Supporting IP education in Africa

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Managing IP attended the official welcome ceremony for the ninth cohort of students on the WIPO/ARIPO masters programme in IP at Africa University, Zimbabwe. Kingsley Egbuonu tells all about the IP books he donated at the event, his visit and how you can join us support IP education in Africa

Last month I shipped a library of books to ARIPO. There were about 813 of them, from practitioner to academic texts, covering almost all areas of IP in Europe, Latin America and Asia. The majority of them were published in the last decade, the latest in 2015, and some in the 1990s such as those dealing with international IP framework such as TRIPs.

The beneficiaries of these books are the students and staff on the masters programme in IP ARIPO runs in partnership with the WIPO Academy at Africa University. They were symbolically presented at a welcome ceremony hosted by Africa University on August 22 in Mutare, Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe. Mutare is one of the largest cities in the country and borders Mozambique to the east.

How I got the books

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Kingsley sorting books

On the afternoon of March 27 2014, at the London offices of law firm Olswang, Jeremy Phillips broke the news to me that he would retire later in 2015 and thereafter he will give away his collection of books. I vividly remember how Jeremy offered the books to me. "All yours if you want them," he said with a grin, leaning back in his chair with his hands on the armrest. It all began in 2010 when I sent Jeremy an email seeking further guidance on IP research ideas for my postgraduate studies at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL). After several email exchanges, he noticed that I was eager to share my thoughts on what I was learning so he gave me the platform to do so. Over time he became my de facto mentor - I’m sure he was for others too, especially young IP enthusiasts.

More about the programme 

This year-long programme was launched in 2008 by the WIPO Academy, ARIPO and Africa University, with financial assistance from Japan.

Then it was the first of its kind in Africa. Admission is open to all but preference is given to nationals of African countries. The programme is taught in English by IP specialists from Africa and beyond.

It is structured in three phases including practical training sessions at the offices of ARIPO. The students must also submit a dissertation. So far it has produced 221 graduates from 24 African countries.

WIPO, in partnership with OAPI and University of Yaoundé II, also offers a similar one targeted at French-speaking African countries. These educational programmes come under WIPO’s IP capacity-building mandate to support developing and least developed countries. I understand they are demand-driven and tailored to the needs of the region.

Aside from his counsel, there was something special about our meetings: Jeremy always gave me copies of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice. To me, the gesture epitomises his character as someone who enjoys sharing knowledge and helping others succeed. I wish I could go into more detail about the mentorship but that’s for another piece. Crucially, I guess not many knew about his keen interest and support for the dissemination of information on IP issues in Africa. But I digress. 

Back to the offer, I accepted it and promised that I would give them all to a befitting university in Africa. Jeremy said it was up to me where they go, provided they are put to good use. I understand this was the third time he had passed on his books. So I took this on as an important project to deliver in 2016.

A couple of months after his retirement, on February 2 this year, Jeremy showed me the literature collection he kept at Olswang. There were well over a thousand books, of all sorts. I couldn’t believe the firm allowed him to keep that many there!

Anyway, I wanted more so I asked Olswang’s librarians Kim Austin and Amanda McKenzie if the firm had books to give away too. They obliged. I made my selections. With the help of my friend Deborah Sewagudde I also got some books from the Centre for Commercial Law Studies (QMUL), for which I thank the Director Spyros Maniatis.

Olswang also made logistics easy for me by allowing me to take my time to sort and store all the books at their offices until I was ready to ship. I’d like to single out Austin for her cooperation and tireless effort in the whole process.

How and why I chose Africa University

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The decision on which university should receive these books wasn't that straightforward. I could have easily chosen a university in Nigeria, South Africa or Kenya, in that order of preference. But I wanted the books to be used by as many people as possible from across Africa.

I decided to crowdsource suggestions on Twitter, after a failed attempt to obtain a list of African universities participating in the Oxford University IP Moot competition. It was at that point the ideal destination became clear. Thanks to Caroline Ncube I remembered that Africa University hosts the ARIPO/WIPO masters programme in IP.

A few days later I spoke with ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos about it. In particular, I wanted to know if the Office would be happy to be the custodian of the books. On the call Dos Santos agreed, mentioning the Office’s efforts and plans to strengthen IP awareness and research in Africa. Then I knew I had made the right choice. I proceeded with final preparations and early last month shipped the books to the Office.

What I learned about the university

ARIPO kindly extended an invitation to me to join the welcome ceremony so everyone can hear about the books and why I chose Africa University. Managing IP was already supportive of what I was doing so sponsored me to be there to see things for myself. The ceremony was also attended by Japan’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Yoshinobu Hiraishi and Minister of State for Manicaland Mandi Chimene. 

Truly pan-African

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The keynote was delivered by Africa University Vice-Chancellor Munashe Furusa who provided some key information and words of advice to the students. The university officially started in 1992. Its pan-African vision is reflected in the diversity of its staff and students. Out of over 100 applications received for the programme, 34 students were admitted. Four students are self-sponsored while the rest are sponsored by ARIPO and WIPO. The gender representation is evenly balanced.

The students this year come from 17 African countries including two from Sao Tome and Principe and Congo Brazzaville, the first from both countries. The diverse professional backgrounds also impressed me. Among them are IP Office staff, legal practitioners, including a judge, and scientists. The Class President Temitope Ogunbanjo works with Nigeria’s IP Office.

It’s worth noting that Nigeria is not an ARIPO member state. Nonetheless, the Vice-Chancellor wants more. “As a pan-African university, this geographical spread of nations is what truly defines our identity and uniqueness and we continue to implore the sponsors of this programme to work tirelessly so that together we can increase the numbers by recruiting students from all countries in Africa and beyond,” he said.

The need and vision

Furusa emphasised the importance of IP awareness in Africa: “The study of IP, its theoretical foundations, its management and principles are all still poorly understood by most people. Intellectual property systems support creativity and innovation. These are two critical aspects seemingly still deficient in many African industrialisation and value addition efforts.” He added that Africa University’s vision is to “create leaders in IP”.

The university presented a paper on IP protection at this yearRIO-SET, an annual forum in Zimbabwe for those in R&D, science and technology, and is preparing to establish a Business Incubation Unit and a Technology Transfer Office.

Later this year the university will launch the African Journal of Intellectual Property and publish a textbook on IP. In his speech Furusa urged the students to help address the challenges in IP in Africa by contributing to policy briefs on issues such as copyright infringement across Africa. He noted that graduates from the programme are already making positive contributions in their respective countries. This was similar to my message to the students at the ceremony. I told them that I hope they’ll use the books as source material to learn about IP law and practice in other countries, especially how it has evolved, and then help contribute to tailor-made reforms in their respective countries.

The visit to ARIPO

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Visiting ARIPO

Before I left the country I visited the offices of ARIPO, which is about 15 km from Harare Airport. When I got there I was struck by their massive building construction project, which I understand could be ready for its 40th anniversary celebrations later this year. I was given a tour of the buildings, and thereafter I met with representatives from Korea International Cooperation Agency who were visiting to evaluate the ICT project sponsored by the Korean government. I understand the project has modernised the workflow and connectivity between ARIPO and the IP Offices of its member states.

A beautiful environment to study

The university’s self-contained site is situated on about 600 hectares of land. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, but in the nicest possible way. I stayed on-site at the university’s Ubuntu Retreat Centre, which is at the top of a hill. Just like what I saw on my way there, the scenery is gorgeous, especially the mountains. You could feel nature. I woke up with birds chirping away and warm sunrise. It felt like a resort. It is indeed a peaceful place to study.

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I didn’t get the chance to visit any of Zimbabwe’s tourist attractions - for example, Victoria Falls and the national parks - but the road trip from Harare to Mutare was a sightseeing experience. The distance is under 300 km and, by the way, I didn’t notice any potholes. On this stretch of road you get a glimpse of Zimbabwe’s natural landscape: from tropical grasslands to spectacular rocks and mountains. I was in awe.

It was my first time in Zimbabwe, and I had preconceived ideas. No wonder the Vice-Chancellor advised the students to make the most out of their stay by taking time off their studies for some sightseeing. As Furusa rightly noted: “This will allow you to share the stories about Zimbabwe from an experiential perspective.”

Taking this forward

Managing IP has pledged to support this programme at Africa University but we can’t do this on our own. Also I would like to see this go beyond Zimbabwe. I’m thinking of places like University of Yaoundé II (Cameroon), which hosts a similar programme; Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Nigeria); Centre for IP and IT Law at Strathmore University (Kenya); The American University in Cairo (Egypt); and in South Africa there are a number of them for example Stellenbosch University.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to partner with us to support any of these institutions or learn more my experience with this particular donation.

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