As global commemorations of World Intellectual Property (IP) Day unfold, reflecting on intellectual property’s past, present and future contributions to sustainable development within the African context is exciting. The theme for 2024 is “IP and the SDGs:  Building our common future with innovation and creativity”, shining a light on the undeniable fact that innovation and creativity are vital to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In a world facing numerous challenges, such as climate change, resource scarcity, and public health crises, leveraging intellectual property to drive sustainable development for our common future has never been more critical.

Explicitly referencing the importance of innovation is SDG9 - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. In our work focused on fostering innovation as the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), we are yet to encounter SDGs that do not require the intervention of innovation. It, therefore, is essential to note that the concept of innovation and IP cuts across all the SDGs as it supports the realisation of all the solutions envisioned in this United Nations (UN) Vision 2030. Notably, IP protection underpins creating a fair and equitable society that values innovation and creativity, which is essential for achieving the broader aims of SDG 16. Securing the rights of contributors is essential for sustainable development, and SDG 16 provides a framework that promotes “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provides access to justice for all, and builds effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions” at all levels in the intellectual property ecosystem.

Current trend

The UN acknowledges that “SDGs are ambitious, multidimensional, and an interlinked set of goals. They cannot be achieved without the effective, appropriate, and inclusive application of science, technology, and innovation.” All these elements are creations of the mind, the simplified definition of IP as we know it. It takes a lot of time and multiple other resources for innovators and creators to produce revolutionary and futuristic solutions that meet our planet’s current and future needs. Therefore, innovators and inventors are motivated to invest time, resources, and effort in contributing more to socio-economic development when there is a return on investment and sweat of the brow,  which translates into their livelihood. The IP system incentivises innovation and creativity, stimulating investment in the innovation required to attain the lifesaving solutions enshrined in the SDGs.

ARIPO’s Mandate

ARIPO’s mission is to foster creativity and innovation for our Member States' socio-economic growth through an effective IP System. We have embraced innovation and creativity as twin essentials for sustainable and green development. In that respect, fulfilling SDG17 - Partnership for the goals, ARIPO works closely with strategic partners, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the China National IP Administration(CNIPA), the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI), the European Patent Office (EPO), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), international federations like the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC), International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), global academic institutions and many other key stakeholders with a focus to promote innovation and creativity in Africa.

At ARIPO, we conceive the nexus between sustainable and green development and the protection of intellectual assets as necessary vehicles for socio-economic development. As such, we promote environmentally friendly technologies, practices, and innovations that help our Member States realise the SDGs and ultimately benefit from them collectively.

Our role in promoting sustainable development is fulfilled by protecting intellectual property under the ARIPO system utilising the existing Protocols. The industrial property under ARIPO’s Harare Protocol on Patents and Industrial Designs protects technologies that advance the attainment of, among others, good health, zero hunger, no poverty, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth. Through mechanisms such as compulsory licensing and technology transfer, IP rights are even greater leverage to ensure that essential medicines are available and affordable to those in need, particularly in our region where Member States are in different stages of development.

Innovative entities acquire trademark protection under the Banjul Protocol on Marks, while the protection of Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge (TK) is catered for under the Swakopmund Protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore. We recognise that over the past millennia, TK has offered valuable insights into sustainable environmental practices, agricultural methods, food security, and medicinal expertise. It is a potential panacea for dealing with pressing global issues such as climate change. IP can help preserve cultural heritage, promote economic empowerment, and foster sustainable development in marginalised communities by protecting traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, and indigenous innovation. The Kampala Protocol on Voluntary Registration of Copyright and Related Rights ensures that creative industries contribute to the socio-economic development of Member States. The Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants provides an effective system of plant variety protection, which has the potential to support the utilisation of  65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land that Africa holds.

The journey going forward

As we celebrate this World IP Day and reflect on the befitting theme, our call is for all of us to nurture the attainment of SDGs by utilising the opportunities at hand in the face of global hunger, accelerated climate change, scarcity of resources and increased pressure on the environment. The onus to proactively create policies that incentivise and motivate the commercialisation of green and sustainable technologies is on us, the current inhabitants of planet Earth. Our collaborative efforts must provide continuous adaptation and innovation for sustainability and contribute to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda and beyond.

On this occasion, let us reaffirm our commitment to promoting and respecting IPRs, supporting the creators and innovators who drive progress, and harnessing the power of innovation to build a better future for all. Together, we can amplify innovative and creative solutions for sustainable development and create a world where intellectual property catalyses positive change. We must act now and use our ingenuity to achieve a sustainable future for everyone, everywhere. In IP, we have all the necessary tools to facilitate the realisation of present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.