Malawi has enormous talent in art, literature, design and invention. Do these creators fully benefit from their creations? Does the country benefit from the creations of its citizens?
To answer these questions we have to understand what intellectual property is and how a country can benefit from this with proper legislations.
Intellectual property is the creations of the mind, including inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names and images used in trade.
It is divided into two.
Industrial property which includes patents for inventions, scientific information, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications. Then there is copyright which includes literary works, films, music, artistic works and architectural design.
A landlocked country with a nascent mining sector should consider transforming its economy from exporting raw materials into a knowledge-based economy.
Gifted people must use their talents and intelligence to create and invent. To develop, the country must collect revenue from the works of these gifted people.
Registration of inventions has become a driving force of economy in both developed countries and Malawi ought to take advantage of this to boost its economy. Jamaica has also benefited from reggae music and artists.
Proper intellectual property laws may create a conducive environment for the development of small and medium-sized industries (SMEs), thereby promoting local industry.
Additionally, transfer of technology from industrialised countries to the least developed countries (LDCs) requires a proper intellectual property protection.
Intellectual property becomes one of the solutions for boosting economics in the LDCs. Studies indicate that intellectual property is essential in the development. Intellectual property, therefore, denotes protection of all these creations of the mind.
Malawi has five main intellectual property laws: the Trademarks Act, Patents Act, Trade Description Act, the Registered Designs Act and the Copyright Act.
The Environment Management Act and Competition and Fair Trading Act make minimal reference of intellectual property.
Among the major acts, the Registrar General’s Office is responsible for the Trademarks Act, Patents Act, the Trade Description Act and the Registered Designs Act.
Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) is responsible for the Copyright Act which protects literary works, films, music, artistic works and architectural design.
However, most of these laws are old and require reviewing. Additionally, the country does not have a law on geographical indications to protect products that are purely Malawian or symbols of what it means to be in Malawi.
We have items like Chambo, Nali, Mzuzu Coffee and maybe even our nsima. These could be protected under goegraphical indications.
We should also consider looking at the protection of our rich traditional knowledge, cultural expressions and genetic resources of Malawi through the intellectual property system. In this context, while enacting laws to protect this, we should also consider the importance of the recording and valuation of traditional knowledge found in the country.
The questions we should be asking ourselves are: how aware are Malawians on intellectual property? How well protective are our laws on intellectual property issues? Do we really seriously look at intellectual property as an area worthy investing in?
Reading manifestos of several political parties in the run-up to yesterday’s tripartite elections of 2019, we see that intellectual property is not a priority area when it comes to the political agenda of developing this country.
By neglecting intellectual property issues, are we not missing one of the real agenda of developing this country? n