By Thandiwe Kubere

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) held a multi-stakeholders validation workshop, courtesy of the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs to promote, strengthen and enhance intellectual property as an effective innovative tool in the country’s development and ensuring that there are relevant laws put in place.

The aim of the workshop was also to deliberate on the proposed work plan for implementation of the Intellectual Property Policy once approved by the Kingdom of Lesotho. Intellectual property (IP) refers to the creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; symbols, names and images used in business. It is legally protected by patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. Thus, by striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish, (WIPO).

In its course create a balanced and effective Intellectual Property policy, WIPO engaged a team of experts for their different skills and wealth of knowledge. The experts were to assist Lesotho and coordinate the process. The development of the National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy (NIPPS) was then drafted, following the needs assessment report of September 2022 as the first of its kind in Lesotho.

Lesotho’s Registrar General Mamoretlo Mohapi, during the opening of the workshop expressed her excitement and appreciation on behalf of the office for the collaboration with WIPO. She also mentioned that WIPO has put in place various initiatives to assist its Member States, especially developing countries in benefiting from Intellectual Property.

“It is within this context that the government of Lesotho requested technical assistance from WIPO, for development of NIPPS. It is important to highlight that this would be the first NIPPS of Lesotho. Intellectual issues are fragmented, and this makes their administration very difficult, hence this is a huge milestone in the history of the development of Intellectual property in Lesotho. It will facilitate a more coordinated and streamlined approach towards utilization IP for the benefit of all Basotho”, she said.

The Principal Secretary of Ministry of Law, Justice and Foreign Affairs, Lira Ralebese, declared that over the years, Lesotho has benefited from WIPO’s Technical Assistance towards the development of Intellectual property in various areas, including human capital and infrastructure development.

“To give you a snapshot, in this room we have a number of beneficiaries of the Master’s degree programme in Intellectual property organization (ARIPO) and other short term courses offered by WIPO Academy. We also have beneficiaries of training offered by WIPO in green technology and agribusiness”, said Ralebese.

He further pointed out that this is particularly important now at the fourth industrial revolution, where knowledge is a key to development, the significance of IP has increased. It is a catalyst for creating jobs, attracting investments, supporting enterprises and entrepreneurs as well as fostering growth and development of countries. However, without a clear policy direction, IP cannot achieve these objectives.

He enlightened that during the field mission which took place from February 17th, to March 04 this year, consultants revealed that while there is a lot of talent in the IP generation in Lesotho, the system is still underutilized, and Lesotho loses sustainability in terms of revenue which would otherwise benefit right holders, users of the IP systems and the socio-economic impact on the country as a whole.

This he said is attributable to challenges which include among others; lack of Institutional Intellectual Property Policies, outdated laws which do not keep pace with the technological advances, infrastructural problems, lack of resources needed for effective scientific and technological base, as well as lack of access to funds for research and commercialization of research results. “Hence the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho made a deliberate decision to develop a NIPPS, which would serve as a blueprint in transforming Intellectual property from being a technical topic to being a tool that help innovators and creators in Lesotho to bring their ideas to life”.

He explained this would unlock the country’s potential in creativity and innovation. “If harnessed effectively, intellectual Property can be the biggest contributor to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and employment creation in Lesotho”, he said.

He therefore declared that having a good NIPPS is not enough. Implementation of the recommendations highlighted in the policy is crucial for the realization of the national goals as contained in the National Strategic Development Plan II (NSDP II) and Sectoral Development Policies and Strategies. This is because IP is crosscutting and multi-sectoral in nature. It relates to a number of sectors such as agriculture, environment, health, education, science and technology, as well as trade and industry. “I am informed that participants from these focus areas participated actively and meaningfully to the discussions during consultations and their contribution added tremendous value to enriching the draft. This gives me comfort that the mission has achieved its intended purpose. It is my hope that this collaboration will continue even beyond this mission”, he said.

Emphasizing more on the significance of WIPO and its role, he said WIPO has just deployed a cloud based Automated System for IP administration at the Registrar General’s office. Currently, while working on the development of the NIPPS, he stated WIPO has been assisting the Registrar General’s office with data capture of all the trademark files that were in manual format, as well training staff on processing international trademark applications using the Madrid System. This would create a conductive environment for IP administration, which will ultimately increase revenue streams for the country. “The government deeply appreciates and values what WIPO is doing for Lesotho”, he said.

The Representative of the Director General of WIPO Emmanuel Rugomboka, stated the vision of the policy is for the utilization of IP as an effective tool to realize the national vision of having a prosperous country. It is also to create a balanced, effective, dynamic and development-oriented IP System that would support the development efforts of Lesotho. He stated that the policy recognizes that all protection measures aimed at various aspects of IP will be effective and broad to cover IP aspects that may not perfectly fit into the conventional IP areas such as traditional knowledge.

The policy also guides that existing intellectual property laws are revised and new laws are enacted taking into account the goals and objectives of national and sectoral development policies, the need for balance between the interest of the right holders and the general public, as well as exploring flexibilities available in international IP treaties to which the country is a party.

The policy goals include; facilitating the integration of IP into the national and sectoral policies; strengthening the national IP legal and institutional framework, and linkage with the international IP System; enhancing the generation, protection and commercialization of IP assets; promoting and boasting IP awareness, education and training; strengthening the creative industry; as well as enhancing the respect and enforcement of IPRs.