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COMESA demands changes to current intellectual property system

China View, 4 March 2005

COMESA demands changes to current intellectual property system

LUSAKA, March 3 (Xinhuanet) — The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) said Thursday it wants changes to the current intellectual property right system to protect the interests of developing countries.

Speaking at a training workshop jointly organized by COMESA and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Lusaka, COMESA assistant secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya said the current intellectual property system does not recognize a large sector of human activity, namely "traditional knowledge" possessedby local and indigenous communities.

He also accused multinational drug and chemical companies of patenting living organisms found in African countries without adequate compensation to local communities and indigenous groups, saying that this amounts to appropriation of the knowledge and resources of African people.

COMESA is working with WIPO to bring changes to the intellectual property system that will address the concerns of developing countries, he said.

His position was supported by Zambia’s deputy minister of commerce, trade and industry, Eugene Appel.

"The economic, commercial and cultural value of this traditional knowledge for its possessor warrants and justifies a legitimate interest that this knowledge is recognized as a subject of intellectual property and that its exploitation leading to economic benefit should be shared with the traditional possessors," he said.

The deputy minister further said the current intellectual property system will adversely affect the pursuit of sustainable development for developing countries by raising the prices of essential drugs to levels that are too high for the poor people, limiting the availability of educational materials, legitimizing the piracy of traditional knowledge and undermining the self-reliance of resource-poor farmers.

As the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement concluded during the Uruguay round of trade negotiationsunder the World Trade Organization is going to take effect from January 1, 2006, Appel said it is essential for COMESA’s 19 member countries to know what impact it will have on them.

For this purpose, COMESA is collaborating with WIPO to organizethe workshop for researchers who will be conducting intellectual property audit assessments in 15 COMESA member countries.

Results of the assessments will help COMESA develop programs to foster the generation, protection and commercial use of intellectual property rights as a means of stimulating economic growth in the region, said Egwenya.

The results shall also be used to formulate a negotiating position for COMESA in its negotiations with the European Union for the Economic Partnership Agreements due to start in December 2005.

 source: Xinhua