Here, I want to talk about one of the many interesting themes of the compendium „Innovation & Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa“, which was just released (see also this blog post): Knowledge sharing in the informal economy in Africa and the knowledge commons. [Both links above link to content within the Alumniportal Germany (register or login first to access the link)]

For the first time, we find here some concrete answers to two key questions, that haunts people interested in the linkage between (open) innovation, commons-approaches and „intellectual property“ (IP): Who „owns“ knowledge in informal economy contexts in Africa?

Let us look at the informal automotive sector in Uganda, as described by Dick Kawooya.

The informal automotive sector in Uganda

Dick provides findings from his Ugandan case study of interactions between informal-sector Kampala automotive artisans and formally employed researchers at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT). The site of the interactions studied was CEDAT’s formal–informal hybrid (or “semi-formal”, as Kawooya calls it) entity, the Gatsby Garage automotive workshop. By probing the innovation practices at Gatsby Garage and at linked sites of informal activity, the research found that the informal artisans follow largely non-protectionist approaches to IP, both in their interactions with formal-sector partners and in their collaborations with counterparts in the informal sector.

Dick also found that the informal-sector artisans were central to innovative processes but were at the same time driven more by sharing impulses than by concern for the intellectual property (IP) implications of their work. Based on these findings, it is argued that Ugandan policy-makers need to seek policy tools to support innovation transfers between informal and informal sectors, and that the tools need to cater for a wide range of innovation incentives.

Towards knowledge commons approaches for communities

Now what does all of this mean for models of shared ownership in „knowledge commons“ type of arrangements?

There is a view, shared by the editors of this volume, that better understanding of the nuances of

IP law, policy and practice in myriad settings (including, for the purposes of this book, African settings) can help policy-makers and practitioners more effectively harness the potential of what has come to be known as the “knowledge commons” (see Hess and Ostrom, 2006). According to the knowledge commons idea, knowledge is shared by groups of people and governed by dynamic mixes of formal and informal norms of ownership and control – by ownership and control systems that are sometimes closed, sometimes open, and often a combination of both.

The potential of commons arrangements for traditional knowledge (TK) in Africa

In addition to the automotive case described above, this idea was further explored in the „traditional knowledge“ domain in Africa, where communities such as traditional healers hold communal knowledge.

Here, the compendium concludes, that commons systems seek to provide another possible model, whereby traditional knowledge can be promoted and circulated without having either to place it in the unrestricted public domain, where it is “free for all”, or to deny all access to it entirely.

If you want to know more about that „traditional knowledge commons“, check chapter 6 and 7 of the compendium.

Conclusion: Africa best-served by IP approaches that balance protection of creative, innovative ideas with information-sharing and open access to knowledge.

So I will conclude with the conclusion of the compendium: The picture emerging from the empirical research presented in this volume is one in which innovators in diverse African settings share a common appreciation for collaboration and openness. And thus, when African innovators seek to collaborate, they are likely to be best-served by IP approaches that balance protection of creative, innovative ideas with information-sharing and open access to knowledge.

In my next blog, I will continue from here and ask the question: If we see all these ways of open access, information-sharing and community-based open innovation models in Africa: Which knowledge governance will then be appropriate in the future? Below, you find some background on GIZ‘s involvement and attributions


Here’s an online copy of the publications:

Also check the group “fellows and friends of Open African Innovation” on the Alumniportal .

[This is a link to content within the Alumniportal Germany (register or login first to access the link)]

GIZ: commons@ip – harnessing the knowledge commons for open innovation – human capacity development and networking

BMZ supports Open A.I.R. via Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), under the GIZ commons@ip – Harnessing the Knowledge Commons for Open Innovation initiative. The commons@ip initiative focuses on how IP rights interact with open innovation, the knowledge commons, open licences and collaborative innovation. It is part of the BMZ-mandated Train for Trade programme, which aims at strengthening the private sec tor and its constituent bodies in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region through training and capacity building in export promotion, quality control and promotion of open innovation – as well as through promotion of local and regional economic development and trade.

Open A.I.R.’s training and capacity building components include:

  • building the network’s capacity – through online platforms, network-wide workshops, research methodology support, scenario-building meetings and thematic seminars;
  • awarding Open A.I.R. Fellowships to emerging IP scholars and potential leaders – from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt;
  • exchanging knowledge through Africa-wide and South–South knowledge networking at seminars, workshops and conferences;
  • growing awareness among African creators, innovators, entrepreneurs and policy-makers of openness-oriented approaches to innovation and IP matters in Africa; and
  • teaching at African tertiary educational institutions, including development of a replicable, open course curriculum on IP law and development.

Attribution and licence:

  • The first paragraph in italics was taken from the book, page 16 by Jeremy de Beer, Chidi Oguamanam and Tobias Schonwetter, see there for full attribution.
  • The second paragraph in italics was taken from the book, page 59 Dick Kawooya, see there for full attribution.
  • The third paragraph in italics was taken from the book, page 18, see there for full attribution
  • The last para was in italics was taken from the book, page vi, vii , see there for full attribution.
  • This entire article is under the following cc-license to comply with the licence of the quotes from the book.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 South Africa Licence.

To view a copy of this licence, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA

Note: This text was first published on the blog of Balthas Seibold at the Alumniportal Germany ( Check the blog ( register or login first). All blog entries represent the personal views and ideas of Balthas Seibold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>