ATRIP 2015: An Open AIR Student’s Perspective

By Meika Ellis

The Advancement of Training and Research for Intellectual Property (ATRIP) Conference provides a yearly opportunity for international experts and other academics in the field of intellectual property (IP) to come together and exchange current research. The set-up of ATRIP’s conference enables for ease of networking with similar speakers separated into common sessions. Tana Pistorius, ATRIP President, and her team of organizers, did a superb job in ensuring a diversity of, yet connection between, sessions. Sessions covered a range of topics from new ideas for leveraging traditional knowledge (or “innovation knowledge” as Susy Frankel stated), to plant breeder’s rights, to diversity, art and culture in IP and innovation.

The main theme of ATRIP 2015 was “Intellectual Property in Action in Society.” This broad theme was interpreted in several ways and broken down largely between perspectives on IP in developed versus developing nations.

The conference started with a session on broader perspectives of IP and innovation. The four speakers in the session set the direction of the conference stating two main themes:

  1. Whether IP rights stimulate or hinder innovation
  2. The difference in approaches between those scholars who support classical IP perspectives and those who advocate for creativity and collaborative approaches to IP.

The first theme was apparent from the first session and weaved its way through subsequent sessions. In the first panel, Open AIR director and co-founder Jeremy de Beer challenged the attendees to find a new framework for IP to encourage collaboration. He explained that we need to create an incentive for inclusion. Later speakers spoke to a similar problem in more specific contexts, such as Martin Senftleben, who explored how the use of copyright entirely for incentive and utilitarian purposes may lead to a loss of independent artists. Lea Shaver also advocated for removing the strict guidelines of copyright to increase access, by presenting a unique idea of “social publishing” (the publication of books in an inexpensive, more open access manner). In the area of plant breeder’s rights, Open AIR steering committee member, Chidi Oguamanam. also spoke about removing strict guidelines. He outlined the need for R&D to expand beyond the five monocultures it currently focuses on, and the need for Africa to implement an adequate system of protection of associated indigenous knowledge, innovations, and farming practices.

What kept the conference dynamic was the diversity of opinions expressed. Joseph Straus spoke to the indicative value of patent statistics, with opinions that sparked discussion among many attendees. Straus thus gave voice to the classical economics assumptions behind IP, which he suggested some academics have strayed from. In contrast, Paul Heald portrayed the value public domain works (i.e. works no longer protected by IP) may have in innovation. Along similar lines, many speakers questioned the current IP regime of developed nations, suggesting that the field examine and develop collaborative, less regimented alternatives that developing nations could use. Such insights aligned well with the findings of the Open AIR network about IP in Africa specifically, a fitting connection given the location of the conference.

The ATRIP conference was ideal for Open AIR to network as we move into our new phase of research. It was also a great opportunity for many of our members to present current research. In addition to Professors de Beer and Oguamanam mentioned above, Open AIR’s Eliamani Laltaika presented on conventional IP rights regimes and African indigenous heritage; Bassem Awad spoke on interactive on-line teaching of IP to an international audience; Enyinna Nwauche discussed emerging standards in the protection of traditional cultural expressions in Africa; and Alexandra Mogyoros challenged the purpose of certification marks.

Value for a Student

What is the importance in attending the ATRIP conference as a student? To begin, ATRIP affords many learning opportunities that a classroom setting simply cannot offer. Students are able to learn directly from some of the world’s leading experts, such as Carlos Correa, Daniel Gervais, and several of our own Open AIR members. A highly beneficial aspect of being a part of the conference was the opportunity to be in discussions with these experts and see first-hand how the field of IP will develop as well as thoughts on the potential for development in the field. I compare this conference to teaching a child about butterflies by setting up a caterpillar aquarium: children get to watch the caterpillar feed, move into a cocoon, and transform into a butterfly. Prior to watching the transformation, a certain understanding of the process is missing. A textbook or research paper can be descriptive but lack the ability to impart a true understanding in the way real-life experience and interaction does. Such interactions are beneficial for both active scholars and attending students.

Attending also helped to build skills that are not always easy to acquire in a classroom. These skills include:

  • Tactics for communicating complex ideas in an engaging and comprehensible manner;
  • Refining how to comprehend a dense, brief presentation, and pull out important points;
  • Good practices for using technology (or not) to present academic work; and
  • Examples from professionals on how they present their work to expert audiences.


IP, and its related areas, is an expansive field that has the ability to build an economy, grow a community, and foster independence among entrepreneurs and others. For those reasons, Cape Town was a prime location for a conference on new perspectives of innovation-generating IP structures.  Cape Town emphasizes this dichotomy by being a place rife with social inequality and historical brutality, yet also a place of innovation and ideas for a better future. Together with the night scene, mountain views, and hospitality, Cape Town provided for a perfect setting to both network and get to know international colleagues on a level unobtainable over virtual communication.

Thank you in large part to the organizers, and sponsorship and assistance from UNISA, LexisNexis, JUTA, WIPO, and CLIP, ATRIP 2015 was a huge success. Thank you also to Open AIR’s supporters, SSHRC and IDRC, for helping make the opportunity to attend possible.


Photo: Creative Commons (CC) licence Jeremy de Beer.