HomeBusiness DigestIntellectual Property Perspectives: Zimbabwe’s IP potential under telescope

Expectations Galore as Budget Announcement Looms

Zim and SA contextualised


The two countries share profound similarities, values and interests. They are multi-party constitutional democracies ushered in by armed struggle , negotiation and subsequent elections. They have colonial legislative history based on Roman-Dutch common law tenets blended with English common law. They both have rich, diverse cultural heritage, vast and endemic natural resource endowments, rich as well as diverse agricultural soils supported by pristine climates. The two countries also have symbiotic and supportive industrial, agricultural and commercial enterprises, tolerant indigenous and foreign religious beliefs, persuasions and creeds, and above all else, fairly harmonious multiracial societies and institutions.
IP-proactive South Africa

In 1990 South Africa heeded global calls to cease armed conflict. The protagonists engaged in constructive political dialogue and settlement, agreed to a three-year transitional period (1991-1993) before holding inaugural multi-party elections in early 1994 to usher in a constitutionally democratic South Africa. During the transitional period, not only did South Africa craft a national constitution that provided for intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection, but proactively updated and modernised her  IP laws in accord with global trends and emerging phenomena.

In these endeavours and pursuits, she adopted a far-sighted and all inclusive approach. To ensure enhanced global partnerships she  tracked, drew inspiration and borrowed extensively from the IP policies and legislative experiences of her global strategic partners. Among these were the European Union (EU), UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand IP instruments. It is also apparent that the South African IP legislative regime anticipated the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) Agreement, which was concluded and adopted on  April 15 1994 in Marrakech, Morrocco.

In tandem with upgrading its IP policy and legislative regimes, South Africa ensured that sectoral policies and legislations were IP-integrated, including education. In this regard, since the early 2000s she slowly but surely concertedly introduced and expanded IP teaching and training syllabi into her education systems.

For instance, relevant IP content has been injected pervasively into various study programmes offered in virtually all institutions of higher learning. Research and development (R&D) institutions have been modernised and expanded from both public and private funding, including  joint-ventures with strategic global partners. South Africa has expanded its study scholarships for both local and overseas studies in strategic fields, including introducing new study areas.

It is this very IP-oriented approach that has accelerated the momentum of South Africa’s wealth creation, employment creation, opening of opportunities in all sectors, hence growth and socio-economic development to become the strongest and biggest economy on the African continent, the first African country to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup Finals with memorable success, and a BRIC country.  By 2004 South Africa was placed in the categories of Spain, Portugal and the like in terms of the level of socio-economic development. This translates to just under 10 years of concerted endeavour and success.
Zim’s IP system colonial heritage
Like all fellow former colonial states, upon attaining independence and majority rule in 1980, Zimbabwe adopted and inherited a wholly unsatisfactory IP system which promoted foreign enterprise at the expense of local IP empowerment in that, it was, among other things:

Devoid of locally-brewed IP policies to stimulate local innovative and creative spirit or entrepreneurship minds;

Essentially a re-registration of foreign IP titles processed and registered by the British IP offices, and

Virtually a preserve of the white community IP practitioners whose foreign acquired IP knowledge, skills and competencies were a closely guarded secret.

It is thus no wonder that the education system inherited was deliberately equally devoid of IP teaching and training curricula. Sadly, this master and servant, employer and employee or entrepreneur and worker-forever policy orientation has solidly continued to endure, more than 30 years after independence. We have long  been adorned with this inferiority complex, excluded from the mainstream economy and reduced to mere unimaginative consumerists.

Zim’s slumbering IP potential

As a direct consequence thereof we are graced with this sad scenario of a talented but intellectually bankrupt, redundant, vulnerable, poor and hungry nation. We have so many underprivileged, deprived and marginalised among our populace, people who could have been and could be IP icons in their own fields and spheres of creative preference, were it not for our long skewed education policies which have confined Zimbabwe’s otherwise vast talent and potential into a deep slumber.

We have stated previously that Zimbabwe’s IP potential is phenomenal all round. All that is required, therefore, is a visionary, focused, proactive, pragmatic and responsive approach for which the political will of all stakeholders is sine qua non or prerequisite. Otherwise, we have all what it takes to transform into a technological giant of Africa within five to 10 years. Say we give ourselves two years to prepare and ignite the process between now and 2014, then by between 2020 and 2024 we should have turned it into a trillion dollar economy on the basis of the following premises:

Regional IP training initiatives

We are so lucky to play host to The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) whose mandates include training of nationals of member states. ARIPO offers monthly programmes, tailor-made courses, professional courses, e-learning and academic programmes. The target groups include IP creators and title holders, enforcement agents, policy and legislative formulators and implementers, institutions of higher learning, R&Ds and IP-awareness institutions (including the journalistic community). ARIPO and WIPO also offer forms of technical assistance. In 2008, ARIPO, in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the African University (AU), jointly launched the Master’s Degree in Intellectual Property (MIP) at AU, near Mutare.

By all means necessary, it is incumbent upon us all to endeavour to exploit this comparative advantage by enrolling for IP courses in line with our passions or fields and spheres of activity, while ARIPO is headquarted here.

IP-infused territory education

To date, the sad scenario is that except for the IP course components offered in the law degree study programme at the University of Zimbabwe, all other courses in our institutions of higher learning do not have this. We need to pervassively introduce structured syllabi in most of our strategic courses, expand these programmes and introduce emergent phenomena studies, particularly in science and technology.

Diasporans blessing in disguise

Yes, we lament the loss of the bulk of our knowledge workers to foreign markets (an estimated 3.5 million of which an estimated 40 000 of whom are students in various universities around the globe annually). However, I view this as a blessing in disguise. For, while abroad they get first hand experience in working with tangible IP products and processes, while at the same time competing with the originators thereof. The resultant skills and competencies would be useful in turning around the fortunes of Zimbabwe’s economy through the effective diffusion of acquired first class IP knowledge.

From an academic perspective, we witness boards of our students heading to high technology-rich countries in search of further studies from sophisticated universities and colleges, which knowledge will stimulate their imaginative thoughts and inspire them into nurturing entrepreneurship hence accelerate the socio-economic development of a country to prosperity. Against this background, we verily believe we will make it to the promised land which we deserve in all senses. Let the Almighty God bless our adventures to redemption and for the common good of our battered and bruised society.


Richard Pasipanodya is an IP Consultant who writes in his personal capacity: Feedback at +263775053007 or email at henripasi@gmail.com.

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