Carved stamps are used to print symbols on traditional Adinkra cloth made by the Ashanti people in Ghana. (Shutterstock)
Carved stamps are used to print symbols on traditional Adinkra cloth made by the Ashanti people in Ghana. (Shutterstock)

As the Swiss Embassy’s Daniel Lauchenauer indicated, Ghana’s national intellectual property (IP) strategy consists of three levels of engagement: the policy level; the infrastructure level; and the education level, which includes capacity-building and awareness raising for local innovators, creators and small and medium-sized enterprises(SMEs). But what motivated the Ghanaian government to direct its attention to increasing its capacity in IP and to seek assistance from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in developing a national strategy that addresses all three policy objectives? In the second of a two-part interview on World IP Day, CIGI Senior Fellow and IP expert Myra Tawfik caught up with Professor Emmanuel Bobobee, chairman of the National IP Policy Committee in Ghana, to find out.

Myra Tawfik: When I spoke with a representative from the Swiss government yesterday, he told me Ghana approached Switzerland for assistance in developing its National IP Policy. What inspired Ghana to do this?

Emmanuel Bobobee: That’s a very good question. Some years back, the Government of Ghana approached Switzerland to have cooperation between Ghana and Switzerland in the field of IP. Ghana identified the need to carry out an assessment of IP regime in Ghana.  And as a result, the State Secretariat for Economic Development (SECO) was approached to assess the level of technical assistance in the area of IP for Ghana and a formal request was submitted by Ghana to that body. In 2006, the Government of Ghana, through the ministry of trade and industry, made a request for technical assistance in establishing an IP regime in accordance with a plan established as part of Ghana’s trade policy of 2004. Under this trade policy, IP rights were one of the thematic areas. The policy came to an end in 2010, and many of its activities were handed over to the industrial policy support program. SECO responded with a fact-finding mission to Ghana in the same year — 2010. Ghana was considered by Switzerland as a priority country for assistance in that area.

Tawfik: Why was Ghana a priority area? Was the country particularly advanced in IP and Switzerland saw you as an ideal country to work with?

Bobobee: The partnership started with a bilateral agreement between the governments of Ghana and Switzerland. Ghana’s trade ministry felt there was a need to have a critical look at the IP regime in the country. Ghana has developed competence with copyright administration, but not patents. For copyright, we had a whole administrator, but we were not doing so well with the rest of IP. So I think this is what motivated the Ghanaian government to seek the support of Switzerland.

Tawfik: Copyright remains very well developed in your country. Another strength highlighted in your IP policy is geographical indications (GIs), which appear to be an integral part of your overall IP strategy. Is that correct? 

Bobobee: That is correct. Naturally, we have a lot of advantages with GIs, but we haven’t mobilized them. Ghana has potential for GI protection. We have not been able to protect them because the policy has not been in place and we don’t have a lot of human resources. But the government’s goal — with the help of SECO — is to create awareness and a policy that enables us to mobilize in the area of GIs.

Tawfik: So you’re building your capacity in the ability to protect GIs. Would you say that’s the first priority or do you have multiple areas you’re working on simultaneously?

Bobobee: I don’t know that GI is the first priority. I’d say copyright and GIs have equal priority, but I think it would be easier to identify the GIs because it’s not as complicated as drafting a patent. For patents, you need a lot of patent attorneys, examiners and these competences are not well developed. On the GI side, if we all agree that these particular commodities are noted for these particular areas, it will be easier to regulate and register.

Tawfik: Is there research and development in Ghana that lends itself to occupying the patent space?

Bobobee: A lot. We have great potential.  In fact, one of the reasons I’m on the IP Committee is that I’ve actually invented a device, but was not able to protect it here. I had to protect it with assistance from outside Ghana. So we have realized that we need expertise and a lot of support to be able to bring our IP industry and environment to an acceptable level for creators, beneficiaries and other stakeholders. In most of Ghana’s universities, technology generation and research are being done by students and faculty. Almost all of our researchers have IP potential, but there is a lack of awareness about how to protect IP.

Tawfik: I noticed that Ghana’s national policy operates at three levels. One level includes attention to capacity-building in IP awareness. What measures are you looking at to build IP awareness?

Bobobee: When we developed the policy, we identified nine main programs with 34 projects. This is supposed to take off in phase two of the Ghana–Switzerland partnership. If this starts, there are several things we have to do. We need to create a lot of awareness and education, and basically create a vibrant environment because we also want to make our economy a knowledge-based one. The patent and copyright issues are some of the vehicles that the government considers important. When I joined the committee, my knowledge in IP was very limited — and that was the case for the majority of committee members. Everybody was hungry for knowledge — to be able to understand the implications of IP issues. All committee members worked hard on the assignment and we hope the government implements these strategies outlined in the national IP policy document. If government is able to do that, it will be very useful for the country. We also need human resources capacity in all areas of IP. For students to be aware, we need to include IP in courses at the undergraduate and graduate-level. Even professional bodies have agreed on the inclusion of IP in the degree curricula. So now the government is fully poised to tackle this issue head-on. I think the government is open to all support from friendly nations and organizations in order for Ghana to benefit from the country’s hidden talents.

Tawfik:  To what extent is building legal expertise a part of the IP capacity building that’s going on in Ghana?

Bobobee: That’s a very interesting point. Right now at the university I work at, we are developing a degree curriculum to establish a Masters in Intellectual Property. My university is one of three institutions identified by the African Regional Industrial Property Organization (ARIPO) to run programs in Masters in Intellectual Property on the African continent in collaboration with WIPO. In Africa, we have mounted one program at the University of Mutare in Zimbabwe, which is directed towards the business and investment community. There is a second one in Dar es Salaam that is focusing on law. The one that’s [being developed in Ghana right now] is focused on technology generation. The makeup of students will be a mix of lawyers, scientists, technologists and engineers so they can appreciate [how other innovators are handling their IP]. 

Tawfik: From your perspective then, what would you consider to be the short, long and medium term goals of the IP project?

Bobobee: In the short term, I think we’ve realized that laws need to be revised and updated.  In the medium-term, some specific projects have to be established, such as a physical IP office, so that it can become a one-stop shop for all IP-related issues. We need a president or chief executive officer to handle IP issues in Ghana. Also in the medium-term, we would like to include [a review of projects] already completed in our institutions and universities to see if there are any IP potentials in them. This would also include reviewing the curricula of schools, from basic to tertiary, for IP awareness creation. The long-term [goal] would be how to actually motivate inventors and innovators to look at the business environment and bring in investors to have a dialogue with inventors.

There will be a few issues that need to be resolved. We need to strengthen the legal framework for the administration and management of IP rights. We need to promote innovation to enhance IP generation activities in Ghana. And we also need to recognize IP rights and technology transfer. We need to create public awareness on IP issues for the general public and identifiable groups. We need to develop and promote IP services to help industry. And we need to promote research on IP related issues in the country. So all of these policies will be running concurrently. Some are short, medium and others are long-term. But we hope, after this, that the groundwork will be done and we will be able to have the programs to take off successfully.

Tawfik: What your country has done with its IP system really seems like it’s on the right path. Do you have any final comments to add?

Bobobee: It’s a very important level of development that we need. Other countries are moving forward in a knowledge-based economy, which encourages people to develop their talents. We want to generate ideas that will develop and establish industries to address unemployment. If peoples’ brilliant ideas can be protected and evolve into business opportunities, I think it will create a lot of positive impacts in the society and our economy will grow.

We need to create public awareness on IP issues for the general public and identifiable groups. We need to develop and promote IP services to help industry.
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