After India, China, Brazil etc now it is South Africa (SA) which is joining the race of commercializing Intellectual assets. Science and technology minister of SA, Naledi Pandor is of the opinion that intellectual property protection drives innovation and also that not enough has been done to address intellectual property (IP) rights. She says piracy has had a negative effect on SA, costing the country R540 million in 2006.
The Intellectual Property Rights Act, from the Publicly Funded Research and Development Bill, was signed earlier this year to increase innovation in the public sphere. However, Pandor said more still needs to be done.
During an intellectual property rights conference, last Friday, Pandor addressed government officials, academics and business leaders. She said one of the department's priorities is to protect indigenous knowledge in order to drive innovation among local communities.
Here one should note that intellectual property does not only mean protecting new inventions but also to protect that treasure of knowledge which has been there with certain communities and has flowed in time. These communities have protected this knowledge in their own crude way but now entire globe is becoming one global village and in absence of a formal international system it would not be possible to protect that knowledge for long. This is especially a threat in this biotechnology driven era where every possible avenue of bioprospecting is being explored by advanced countries.
It is for this reason that India has also signed an agreement with US and has given them access to TKDL so that they can search the same before granting any patent. This would help prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge through mistaken issuance of patents.
South Africa has also put forward a mechanism to protect communities. They have organized a department to incorporate the institutional mechanism; the intellectual property management offices, which will be available through the country; as well as working with communities to ensure there is the infrastructure available to them to create economic opportunity.
In spite of all the efforts there is a long way we need to go before we are in a position to boast about protection of traditional knowledge but these foundation steps are nevertheless encouraging