A seamstress works at a sewing machine in her newly opened shop in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Shutterstock)
A seamstress works at a sewing machine in her newly opened shop in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Shutterstock)

In January 2016, Ghana launched its National Intellectual Property (IP) Policy as part of an on-going national project designed to enable the country to better compete in the knowledge economy.  This strategic economic project originated a decade ago when Ghana first sought the assistance of Switzerland for technical support in developing its IP capabilities.

Competing in the knowledge economy, in which IP rights are the major currency, is no longer the exclusive preserve of the developed world. As countries like Ghana put measures in place to develop their global IP capacity, Canada would do well to look closely at how it can remain competitive in an increasingly crowded and sophisticated global economic landscape.

There are lessons to be learned from the Ghanaian example and, in this vein and in celebration of World IP Day 2016, CIGI Senior Fellow and IP expert Myra Tawfik conducted a two-part interview to learn more about Ghana’s IP initiatives. This is the first of those conversations, with Daniel Lauchenauer, Deputy Head of Cooperation/Counsellor, Embassy of Switzerland in Ghana.

Myra Tawfik: Could you please explain the Swiss government’s involvement in Ghana’s IP project.

Daniel Lauchenauer: Switzerland is providing development cooperation assistance in quite a number of so-called priority countries. Ghana, being one of the priority areas, has a particular focus on economic cooperation. In practise this is quite broad, but it means that we aim at promoting sustainable growth – in economic, ecological and social terms in Ghana.

The economic development cooperation of Switzerland is within the Economic Cooperation and Development Division of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). In many identified priority countries for Swiss cooperation, we have activities in the field of IP. These projects are implemented by the Swiss Federal IP office – the IPI – under a framework contract with SECO.

It must have been around 2006 when Ghana approached Switzerland with a request for support in the area of IP. Ghana knew that Switzerland was supporting these kinds of projects and they felt a need to get support in moving the system further. This is where it originally started – with a request by Ghana itself.

Tawfik: As you say, you have a similar arrangement with different select countries. To what extent does your economic development strategy include attention to providing IP support?

Lauchenauer: SECOs co-operation focuses on middle-income countries, and for these countries IP is becoming more and more of an issue and a topic on their development agenda. It’s relevant for their own economy, but also when it comes to being attractive for foreign companies and foreign direct investments. So with the development of the economy, IP gets higher on the agenda and is being seen as a useful tool for economic, social and cultural development.

Tawfik: What kind of support – to the extent that you can say – does Switzerland provide in terms of helping countries like Ghana develop their capacity in intellectual property?

Lauchenauer: In most of our project, we work on three levels.

The first level is the policy level—the legal framework establishment or improvement according to country’s priority, engagement and capacity of policymakers nationally and internationally and other activities requested by the country. In Ghana, this level has been in the focus of the project during in the first phase. The launch of the Ghana IP policy was one of the major results of the first phase – the development process of this policy was supported by the project and is one of the major achievements. In parallel, a series of laws have also been revised or newly introduces and work on that system level has taken place. However, having only the legal framework and the policy system in place is not sufficient. We’re well aware of that.

So the second broad intervention area is “supporting the IP system in better serving the users.” It could be very concrete issues like providing training for patent examiners - which hasn’t been done in Ghana at this stage – revising processes and procedures of the IP offices and so forth. Activities on this level aim at establishing a well-functioning public side of the IP system which serves the users.

The third level is making the “IP users” - SMEs, researchers, artists and many others- more aware of the benefits but also challenges of IPRs. They shall be able to take an informed decision on what kind of IP they shall protect and how.

So those are the three levels – policy level, performance of the service provision on the public side and capacity building and awareness at the user level. The next project phase in Ghana will now focus on the latter two.

Tawfik: From your vantage point, what do you think makes Ghana a particularly auspicious environment for the successful implementation of these three strategic levels? 

Lauchenauer: It’s most probably a combination of different reasons why Ghana might be particularly interested in IP or why it might be interested in IP than other countries. And – as a side remark - for us, this commitment from the partner side is obviously a precondition for engagement. We’re not here to impose anything or whatever. We want to contribute and can provide support but it is the partner country who should be in the driving seat.

At the end of the day, it remains speculative what the driving force in Ghana for the interest on this project was. One reason might be the richness of the country on cultural traditions and in particular also regarding textiles. There are many wonderful textiles produced and Ghana is well aware that more and more there will be international competition and with low quality copies. So copyrights and design protection seems important. When I talk to people, they are well aware and proud about the traditional textiles but also dance, music etc. but textiles may be one of the prominent areas where people are in particular aware and say “we have a rich cultural heritage, and we’re starting to be copied and we don’t want that.”

So there’s kind of a natural awareness to at least copyright related areas, but this applies probably also for others IP titles like geographical indications. Cocoa from Ghana has for example the reputation of being of superior quality. Even though there no registered geographical indication in cocoa existing at the moment, people are well aware of this reputation and the same applies also to other local products such as shea butter or fruits.

When it comes to industrial rights like patents or petty patents or utility models, this might not yet be the very first priorities in developing countries. Trademarks might be more relevant for the specific needs of companies. However, with the development of the country, topics like technology transfer, research and innovation become more important. As Ghana, in West Africa at least, is ahead in economic development compared to other countries, all these IP-titles have a higher relevance.

Tawfik: What would you consider to be a successful outcome or outcomes of this national IP strategy?

Lauchenauer: One of the major steps currently still “missing” is the establishment of a national IP office, which doesn’t exist at the moment. There’s a copyright office but for industrial rights, there’s no dedicated office. So currently in Ghana when you want to register a trademark, patent or whatever, you have to register at the registry general department. It’s not a unit dedicated to IP but you would also register your company at the same place.

We believe it would be helpful to establish such an IP office. This office would be able to provide corresponding services to the IP users and could be a major step forward. However, at the end of the day this needs to be a political and financial decision of the government of Ghana, which has to be in the driving seat. In the frame of our project we could not provide major equipment or infrastructure support but could provide technical assistance, capacity-building and know-how to the staff of the future office. Switzerland in general tends to focus its support and contributions less on the hardware side but more on the management and capacity side in areas we believe we can provide a comparative advantage.

There are many wonderful textiles produced and Ghana is well aware that more and more there will be international competition and with low quality copies. So copyrights and design protection seems important.
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.