Intellectual Property Rights Took Center Stage at Maiden US-Ghana Business Expo

Maiden Us Ghana Business Expo
Maiden Us Ghana Business Expo

The American Chamber of Commerce, Ghana, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, the U.S. Commercial Service, the Global Diversity Export Initiative, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Ghana Embassy in Washington DC, organized the maiden U.S. – Ghana Business Expo at the Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra from Thursday, August 10 to Friday, August 11, 2023.

The event, held under the theme “Leveraging U.S. – Ghana Trade Relation for Growth and Prosperity, aimed to provide a platform for fostering bilateral trade collaborations and economic growth between the United States and Ghana. The Expo had in attendance over 800 participants, including key industry stakeholders, entrepreneurs, government officials, business leaders from both nations and the general public.

A thought-leadership panel on Intellectual Property Rights was one of the crucial highlights of the maiden business expo.

The panel was moderated by Frances Quarcopome, owner of JamJar Ghana/Podcaster. The panelists comprised Rex Omar, Musician; Diana Hopeson, Musician and Founder of GhMu Publishing; Ekow Bartels-Kodwo, Legal Practitioner; and Tom Chris Emewulu, Founder and President of Stars From All Nations and Program Executive for African Fashion Foundation. The issues discussed by the panel include:

  • IPRs Issues at the National Level

Rex Omar commented that Ghana has not given importance to IP issues. This is demonstrated by the unapproved use of Ghanaian products globally. He noted that foreign entities utilize the country’s name to create and sell cocoa products and have employed Ghanaian cultural symbols, such as Adinkra, for branding without proper authorization. Also, he indicated that Ghana’s Copyright Office continues to rely on outdated approaches such as manual documentation and paper-based record-keeping, leading to inefficiencies in its operations. While Ghana is a signatory to international agreements like the Berne Convention, he stated that practical implementation is lacking in the country.

He added that despite research indicating that the creative economy is a driver of employment, especially for youth and women, the country has not harnessed this tremendous potential and that Ghana faces challenges in establishing a fair system for songwriting credit distribution. He explained that although Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) have been established, they lack the necessary support and resources to operate effectively. He said this has resulted in difficulties in ensuring proper compensation for creators. He mentioned that Ghana Broadcasting Corporation’s non-payment for music usage also exemplifies disregard for creative rights and compensation in the country.

Diana Hopeson stated that the lack of a good database within Ghana’s creative industry motivated her to establish GH Music Publishing to bridge the gap between creators and users while ensuring transparent connections. She explained that most highly creative individuals, particularly in Ghana, often lack interest in the business aspects of their work due to limited literacy. This underscores the need for individuals knowledgeable in handling the intricacies of metadata that serve both users and consumers.

According to her, GH Music Publishing was established to assist creative industry players in publishing. However, many of the industry players have the misconception that by signing on to GH Music Publishing, they relinquish the rights to their works. Meanwhile, publishing aims to meticulously document creative works and facilitate global recognition while safeguarding creator rights. She explained that the misconception concerning IPRs is further compounded by some legal professionals who do not fully understand IPR issues. She indicated that artists must familiarize themselves with various IPRs and the relevant institutions that handle these laws. Also, Ghana has good copyright laws, but parliament needs to expedite the passage of relevant policies relating to IPRs to boost investor confidence in the creative industry.

She stated further that the role of technology is indispensable in Ghana’s creative industry and that businesses need to invest substantially in the technology space to help advance the creative industry. She also mentioned that it is essential for stakeholders to view IPR within the creative sector not solely for entertainment but also for cultural preservation, education, and inspiration to further motivate strategic investment in the creative arts industry.

Tom Chris Emewulu noted that IP is crucial because it forms the bedrock of every stage of intervention in terms of technology. Also, research has shown that, in any economy, the main determinant of growth or ecosystem development is the number of patents being found. In 2019, Africa accounted for only 0.5% of the world’s patent applications compared to 66.8% in Asia, 19% in North America and 10.9% in Europe. The number of applications from residents constituted only 18.6%, indicating that most of the applications were submitted by non-residents. For instance, in South Africa, which had the most applications across the continent, out of 6,914 applications, 91.8% came from non-residents, according to the UN.

He stated further that in terms of the distribution of patent applications across continents in 2019, Africa received 16,100 applications, Asia received 2,094,800 applications, Europe received 363,900 applications, Latin America and the Caribbean received 55,700 applications, and North America received 657,900 applications.

According to him, the utilization of IP in Ghana and Africa is low because of weak and outdated ICT systems in existing institutions, which makes the continent uncompetitive with the rest of the world. Also, Africa struggles with inadequate research facilities and funding. He said that in 2017, Sub-Saharan African countries spent an average of 0.4% of GDP on research against the world’s average of 1.7% and the African Union’s (AU) benchmark of 1%.

He urged businesses to conduct the necessary due diligence and put in place the needed paperwork and legal processes to safeguard their work. He also advocated for the education and sensitization of stakeholders on the importance of IPRs, the relevant IP institutions, the protection of creative works, and remediation processes for resolving IP issues.

Ekow Bartels-Kodwo explained the importance for creatives to protect themselves and their works internally and externally. He mentioned that internally, creatives can establish protective measures through well-defined contracts that specify ownership rights. This is essential for collaborations, especially in employment arrangements. This is because IP generated during employment typically belongs to the employer, a nuance that creatives need to be cognizant of. Externally, he emphasized that creatives can protect themselves by seeking legal assistance, even resorting to legal action when necessary, to uphold their IPRs. Moreover, he explained that becoming a member of collective management organizations like the Ghana Music Rights Organization (GHAMRO) can play a significant role in ensuring the protection of creative works, given the extensive influence and resources these organizations possess.

He added that to protect their work internally, creatives must be cautious with technological advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) because some AI tools may gain access to creative works, potentially compromising ownership rights. He said utilizing AI tools cautiously and being vigilant about their terms of use can serve as safeguards. He suggested that externally, creatives can protect themselves by seeking permission when incorporating others’ work, be it remixes, covers, or inspirations, to ensure due respect for IP. This includes trademark considerations, where using protected names can result in legal repercussions.

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