Civil society challenges WIPO over so-called Africa IP Summit

The Africa IP Summit is a highly controversial event, scheduled to be held in Cape Town in April, co-organised by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the US Department of Commerce and a number of large US corporations (Microsoft, Eli Lilly. Pfizer, etc).

There are clear intentions to use this platform to promote for TRIPS-plus measures in intellectual property protection and enforcement in the African region. Needless to say that WIPO is also quite active on 'anti-counterfeit' initiatives; deliberately conflating questions of IPRs with questions about quality, safety and efficacy. The objectives of this 'summit' run counter to the spirit and the letter of the Development Agenda adopted by WIPO in 2007.

PHM has joined 99 NGOs and academics urging WIPO to reconsider.

Please read, circulate, publicise and write directly to WIPO. 

The Africa IP Summit:

  • fails to address conflict of interest
  • lacks a development and public interest dimension
  • lacks transparency and information

See more about the event on the US Dept of Commerce website:

PHM joins 99 NGOs and academics world wide to call upon WIPO to: 

  • postpone the holding of the Africa-wide IP Summit
  • reconsider its partnership with the different interests involved and work to organize a balanced forum that is development oriented and upholds public interests and is free of any conflicts of interests and influence of actors
  • avoid partnering with actors that promote an unbalanced IP agenda.

See Letter to WIPO.

Commentaries on the proposed Africa IP Summit 

Catherine Tomlinson, Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa

“The proposed agenda for the Africa WIPO Summit clearly shows that the summit is being used as a vehicle to drive the agenda of the US, the EU and the pharmaceutical industry to ramp up protection and enforcement of intellectual property. We urge ours and other African governments to reject the proposed agenda, which puts the profits of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the lives and health of people living in Africa. We call on ours and other African governments to take leadership in developing a balanced agenda which seeks to promote and protect development and affordable access to medicine in our countries.”

Mulumba, Moses, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, Uganda

 "Its a shame that the Africa IP Forum is putting emphasis on IP enforcement agenda. One would expect the continent to be discussing the Development Agenda in light of its social economic challenges in the areas of health, education and agriculture. Over emphasis on IP enforcement is iniquitous of the continent's population that still badly needs to utilise the policy space provided for by the TRIPS Agreement" 

Andrew Rens, South African intellectual property expert and an academic currently carrying on research at Duke University

"The event is being marketed as the first ever contintent wide Africa Intellectual Property forum so one would expect the topics discussed to be those issues in Intellectual Property which have been of most concern to Africans. In the years since TRIPS the single most important issue involving Intellectual Property for Africans has been gaining access to medicines. There is no track nor even an single session on access to medicines, but there is an entire track on the management and administration of intellectual property. 

The South African government which is co-hosting the event has been a strong proponent of a treaty on exceptions to copyright for education. There is no session on educational exceptions but there is an entire track on enforcement. 

Although proponents of ever more ambitious enforcement measures may have been temporarily halted in the United States with the rejection by Congress of SOPA and PIPA they continue to push for these measures in other countries including Africa. South Africa and other African countries have urgent problems that involve access to medicines and access to education. Why are these urgent problems that directly concern intellectual property rights not on the agenda?"

Teresa Hackett, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL)

"It's as if the last five years didn't happen - no WIPO Development Agenda, no discussion on copyright limitations and exceptions, no proposals in favour of libraries and archives, education, blind and visually impaired people. But they did happen, and we will work to ensure that delegates attending the African IP Forum hear a diversity of opinion and perspective, and have the opportunity to debate these issues that are critically important to libraries in Africa and around the world". 

Dr. Jeremy Malcolm, Consumers International

"Intellectual property is a highly contested topic in the West, where many feel that governments have been excessively deferential to powerful rights-holder lobby groups, to the detriment of ordinary consumers.  But in Africa, there are even bigger questions around the appropriateness the intellectual property paradigm to meet the continent's health, education, and social and economic development needs.  Therefore Consumers International was alarmed that the draft programme for the African Intellectual Property Forum entirely ignores these important questions.  Such a forum will be seen by all not as a bona fide attempt at open discussion on the pros and cons of robust intellectual property protection in the African context, but rather as a cynical effort by foreign governments and multinational corporations to control the framing of these issues for African policy-makers."

James Love, Knowledge Ecology International

"The world community should be supportive to the development concerns of persons living in Africa whose population is largely comprised of poor persons and avoid unfair exploitation. 

By organizing a high level meeting on intellectual property that is dominated by big corporate right holder interests, the US government is taking a step backwards, to exploit consumers rather than to promote development. 

On May 10, 2000, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13155, on Access to HIV/AIDS Pharmaceuticals and Medical Technologies, which was designed to protect African consumers from trade pressures on intellectual property and medicine. The 2012 high level meeting shows no recognition of the policy set out in EO 13155, and would extend anti-consumer trade pressures to other sensitive areas for development, such as agriculture, climate change and access to knowledge and culture. Secretary John Bryson and other Obama Administration officials need to take a step back and change the format of the meeting, or cancel the event." 

Sangeeta Shashikant, Legal Advisor Third World Network

The US is well known for pressuring developing countries to adopt TRIPS plus standards. The Africa IP Summit is another attempt by the US to advance its aggressive agenda on IP protection and enforcement such as Anti-Counterfeit Agreement (ACTA),  that favours the interests of certain powerful multinational companies. The US concept paper and programme totally disregards the numerous developmental and socio-economic challenges facing Africa. Issues of access to affordable medicines, access to knowledge, misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, farmers' rights are totally disregarded. Equally absent is a discussion on the value of public interest flexibilities in the IP system to achieve developmental objectives and address social needs. The US agenda is clear. It is about not about development. It is about protecting the interests of its companies, many of which are sponsoring the meeting, proliferating IP propaganda and misinformation. Unless steps are taken to fully reflect development and public interest considerations, and to eliminate actors only interested in an anti-development agenda, the event should not go ahead. 


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