Harnessing intellectual property for development: some thoughts on an appropriate theoretical framework

29 January 2014

This paper considers how an appropriate theoretical framework for Intellectual Property may be constructed. Such a framework would be the lens through which contested IP issues may be resolved and upon which national IP policy and legislation might be based. The paper begins by highlighting the inherent tensions in IP, which are caused by the various stakeholder interests that this body of law seeks to balance, and by the cross-cutting nature of IP. It contends that in order to more equitably balance the contesting rights of the creators and users, IP rights should be formulated and enforced so as to meet societal goals or serve public interest, be responsive to the economic environment, and take cognisance of the human rights claims of both creators and users. National socio-economic goals should inform such a framework in a way that ensures that IP is used as a means to achieve these goals and is not perceived as an end. This will require nuances in policy and legislation that meet the country's needs. In particular, as a developing country South Africa would do well to exploit available flexibilities in the various international IP agreements by which it is bound. Due regard also ought to be had to the users' need for affordable access to IP-protected goods in order that they may exercise the right to work and access to knowledge, as provided for by ss 22 and 16 of the Constitution respectively. Similarly, creators ought to be given due recognition, together with reasonable reward and remuneration for their efforts. This will be achieved through the creation of an IP system that provides protection that is compatible with the nature of the good being protected and the manner in which the creative process unfolds. Such protection should rely on registration systems are efficient, simplified and affordable. The accompanying enforcement system should be equally accessible, although the costs of enforcement would depend on the forum used to secure redress. Finally, the resulting IP regulatory framework should be both certain and clear.