How is the African IP Trust related to Light Years IP?

Ron Layton conceptualized the African IP Trust, based on his 25 – year experience in enforcing IP rights worldwide. As he worked throughout Africa, and analyzed distinctive products that have great value in final markets, he realized that the intangible value of many distinctive products, highly valued by consumers in western markets, translates into extraordinary prices for importers and retailers. Yet, only about 3-5% of the value was returned to the farmers and producers. Light Years IP was founded to create IP business strategies for country farmers and producers, and cultural groups that goes beyond basic Intellectual Property tools such as Trademarks and Geographic Indicators, as these IP tools tend to keep the power in the hands of the Trademark owners – often the importers and retails. IP Value Capture, by contrast, is more about IP business strategies than legal strategies. Light Years is funded to create a wide spread training program in Tanzania and Uganda and has projects throughout East Africa to enable farmers, producers and cultural groups to reclaim their Intellectual Property and to receive a higher and more secure income.

It became apparent that part of the reason African farmers and producers receive a low return from the retail value of their distinctive products is the intangible value is worth billions of dollars in the market place, and not easily relinquished by companies and corporations. Intangible value and Intellectual Property for example, outweighs the physical value of many products and goods.

The concept of an African IP Trust to negotiate on behalf of African farmers and producers began many years ago, but was duly inspired as well from the willingness of many organizations and individuals to support the Ethiopian fine coffee case. In 2006, influencing Starbucks to accept Ethiopian ownership of trademarks and right to licensing was a long, uphill fight, which was eventually achieved by very personal individual influence on the chairman of Starbucks. It has long been Ron’s vision that a lobbying entity, already knowledgeable about IPVC strategies and working with but independent from Light Years IP, could serve as an effective, supportive collective group to assist African farmers and producers when a powerful lobbying group and high profile individuals are needed.

Why is an African IP Trust needed?

Light Years IP has developed IP Value Capture strategies for over 20 large groups of African stakeholders, with strategic interventions in the supply chain that varies on a case by case basis. African stakeholders have for too long been in a position of dependency upon foreign commodity markets, where most of the retail price of their distinctive products has been taken. As African stakeholders’ IPVC strategies are implemented, the AIPT can assist by influencing foreign businesses that currently exploit the stakeholder’s market and IP rights.

IPVC involves changing fundamental patterns and assumptions held by foreign business that often assume a powerful and exploitive position toward African stakeholders, their IP rights, and their well-deserved income. To shake off and affect change involves changing the power balance, alongside and in concert with the IPVC strategies. Ron Layton’s vision is that an effective, lobbying body, such as the AIPT, can be instrumental when called upon to do so, given the powerful positions its members hold in global society, coupled with their passion for human rights.

What exactly will the AIPT DO?

The AIPT functions will vary, depending upon the IPVC strategy, but will involve a range of functions from simple to more complex:

  • Engaging their own networks of powerful allies who support the rights of producers to earn a living wage
  • Supporting and encouraging farmer and stakeholder groups such as the Maasai as they seek to regain the respect and ownership of their IP
  • Purposeful letter writing
  • Supportive attendance at functions to build encouragement and solidarity
  • Engagement of the AIPT political network of lobbyists, other influential contacts and the power of its social network
  • Individual and collective negotiation
  • Advancing the African stakeholder networks of influenceFor example, corporations who exploit African rights may or may not be fully knowledgeable about the effect of their actions. At times, awareness-building and individual contacts will be useful; at others, a collective campaign, drawing upon the political and social capital of the AIPT will be needed.

What activities is the African IP Trust currently doing?

The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have formally requested AIPT support and partnerships with the Maasai have advanced. Light Years IP is funded by the UK charity, Comic Relief to finance a 3- year IPVC strategic initiative for the Maasai.

  • The AIPT co-chairman, Lord Paul Boateng has visited the Maasai in Kenya and confirmed the AIPT support. He has been an ally in their letter writing and discussions with one particularly large corporation and assisting with licensing.
  • Congresswoman Diane Watson, co-chair of the AIPT hosted representative of the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI) in Washington, DC in Fall, 2009, to demonstrate support.
  • Light Years IP has brought the concept of the AIPT to the US Government through securing a federal grant and rapidly advanced with implementation.
  • The AIPT held an inception conference in Addis Ababa, to discuss its mission and organizing structure.
  • Light Years IP also developed a set of training modules and materials to advance the mission of the AIPT.
  • The Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative, encouraged by early support and training activities, have advanced their mission and begun stakeholder projects in handicrafts and trademark rights.
  • Light Years IP is working with northern Ugandan shea butter producers and Zanzibar spice farmers who are likewise encouraged by the presence of powerful allies.

How will the AIPT be funded?

Currently, the AIPT is funded by a grant received by Light Years IP. However, all of the AIPT members hold full-time salaried positions so we believe there is not a large budget need, as the AIPT will function largely as a lobbying group, via its virtual network. We are currently seeking ongoing funding.

Where will the AIPT be located?

For legal jurisdiction, much of the AIPT activities will take place in the US, Europe and other developed countries and it will function across Africa.

How will stakeholders find the AIPT so that it can offer assistance?

The AIPT has a website presence. It also has a Board of 4 strong individuals with an enormous network. There is also an Advisory board and contacts. The AIPT currently functions as a support to the IP Value Capture strategies designed and implemented by Light Years IP and its team. Currently, we don’t envision that the AIPT will be involved in designing strategic interventions in the supply chain, but will utilize its influence when requested by stakeholders. The reason for this is that IPVC strategies are complex as IP control has been relinquished by low-income farmers, producers and cultural groups. To effectively reclaim IP control alongside the income accruing from it and the security of that income often involves long-term planning, including feasibility studies; marketing financial, and business strategies such as initiating a distribution company; registering certification and trademarks; designing various supply chain interventions which are not the expected bailiwick of the AIPT. In addition, the AIPT interventions could be counter-productive if not carefully planned and part of an overall, sequential IPVC strategy.

Can African stakeholders request help from the AIPT independently?

It is likely that African stakeholders will approach and request help from the African IP Trust. While not to be discouraged, it must be understood that the AIPT is conceptualized to work with concerted IP business strategies including detailed analysis of the reality of the business opportunity.

How much time is likely to be required of the African IP Trust?

The time required is likely to be of high quality rather than high quantity. The predominant asset of the AIPT is its experience and network, collectively considered to be extraordinary, politically and business-wise.

IP business strategies are often about changing the fundamental way in which African producers and farmers are viewed – that of being dispersed across great distances; poor and presumed unknowledgeable about the IP value of their products; and powerless to affect change in the negotiating position.

The stereotypical assumptions that keep farmers and producers trapped in cycles of low returns for their products can change. Coca Cola—a brand worth over $US 23 trillion – would not permit others to take its IP value and we at Light Years IP and the African IP Trust believe the same value should be afforded to the farmers, producers and owners of iconic cultural brands such as the Maasai. But, they cannot do it alone.