Africa

Safeguarding IP Rights

The intent behind legal protection of intellectual property is to generate incentive to innovate.

A vendor tries to prevent photographs being taken of fake Louis Vuitton and Coach brand purses she was selling on a street in Beijing.
A vendor tries to prevent photographs being taken of fake Louis Vuitton and Coach brand purses she was selling on a street in Beijing.

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Intellectual property is defined as any unique form of invention resulting from human creativity that is subsequently recognized and protected by law.  This includes inventions and innovations on existing design in every field and genre, from medicine to technology, literature, music, fine arts and fashion.  But it also includes symbols, images, names, logos and designs used in commerce.   

In the United States, as in most of the world, intellectual property is protected by copyright and patent laws which, for a stipulated amount of time, prevent others from copying and profiting from a protected design.

The intent behind legal protection of intellectual property is to generate incentive to innovate, create new ideas, improve upon existing technologies and spur competition.  This in turn fosters economic growth, and attracts investment that will create new jobs and opportunities for all citizens.  In a recently released study, for example, the United States Department of Commerce notes that some 40 million jobs in the United States are directly related to industries that depend on intellectual property.  

Conversely, the theft of intellectual property, also known as piracy, is a threat to the creative sectors in our societies. Major institutions such as the World Bank and even the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, recognize this correlation.

Intent on protecting intellectual property rights globally, the United States is partnering with other governments to stop pirates from profiting off the ideas and labor of others.  Most recently, the U.S. Department of State allocated $2.6 million for anti-crime training and technical assistance projects in several countries in the Pacific Rim, Latin American, and sub-Saharan Africa.

So, for example, West African customs authorities will receive training in methods to identify and seize goods that infringe on foreign patents and logos.  Some ASEAN member state judges and prosecutors will be offered workshops in judicial and prosecutorial management of Intellectual Property Rights cases, while Mexican law enforcement will study how to follow the money trail and digital evidence in online piracy cases.

As U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said recently, “strong intellectual property protections encourage our businesses to pursue the next great idea, which is vital to ... driving our overall prosperity."

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