Intellectual Property in a traditional Tswana home

SHARE   |   Sunday, 31 August 2014   |   By Oabona Monnakgotla

In the previous article we looked at intellectual property in a school environment.  The article was mainly concerned with identifying intellectual property generated by students and suggesting how it can be protected and commercialized. Today we will look at intellectual property in a traditional Tswana home.  This article therefore, identifies the intellectual property generated in our traditional settings and suggests how it can be protected.  The article is confined to a traditional Tswana set up abound with elements and artefacts generated and made by local people and communities and demonstrating creativity and innovation by the indigenous/traditional people and communities which and could benefit the individuals and communities through commercialization of the intellectual property.

History about the Bantu migration teaches us that the migrations were closely related to agriculture and iron working leading to an agrarian society of skilled gardeners who provided economic support for artists who produced beautiful baked clay sculpture. As iron-making diffused rapidly in the sub-Saharan African ironmasters became proficient and highly respected, their craft(s) assumed ritualistic significance that their furnaces were located in secluded places. African built furnaces evolved so much that they were capable of generating higher temperatures than those in Europe and producing high quality implements, as well as beautiful jewellery in copper and gold. This history about innovation in Africa is shared to demonstrate that innovation and creativity is an endowment hence WIPO’s definition of intellectual property as “fruits of human creativity and invention”.

Getting closer to home Batswana developed and protected similar knowledge and skills to make clothes, build infrastructure, build equipment and tools such suited plans to make culinary (wooden spoons, plates, mortar and pestle). They also had ways and methods of preserving food, protecting crops and harvest from pests as well as forms of entertainment. All these constitute intellectual property. However, unlike common intellectual property, most of intellectual property referred to amongst Batswana may not be traced to a single individual.  It belongs to communities because it is passed from one generation to another. Basket weaving in Nhabe and the surrounding regions may not be traced to a single originator(s) of the skill used to weave baskets. The skills and dexterity is largely learnt or inherited from their parents who also inherited the skill(s).. This type of intellectual property is referred to as traditional or indigenous knowledge. Traditional knowledge can now be registered for official protection with the Office of Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Property Act, Chapter 68:03 of the Laws of Botswana.

Other types of intellectual property rights are applicable on traditional knowledge products or artefacts. For example, Batswana have setilo sa dikgole, that serves the same purpose as an ordinary modern chair. Setilo-sa-dikgole can be made in many designs. Its utility can be improved by incorporating further developments.  A person who makes such modifications can protect them either by industrial design rights or utility model certificates which provide individual protection as opposed to community protection common under traditional knowledge protection. The protection will only be limited to the improvements made. Industrial design rights protect the appearance of a product and utility model certificates protects an object or a configuration of an object that gives an object improved usefulness. 

Water refrigeration in the past involved indigenous technologies and indigenous materials. Clay pots (Dinkgo) were used to store water at cold temperatures, and sego used as a cup to scoop water from the clay pot also brought another technology and use of indigenous material. Sego (singular) is made from carved or hallowed melon similar to butternut which would then be dried and the shell used as a cup. From all of the above, it is evident that  the above are good and relevant examples of innovative activities that attract intellectual property and more encouraging is the evidence that intellectual property is  taking place and efforts to build awareness about IP should be intensified.  

Other examples of commercialized and commercialize able products with their technologies deeply rooted to tradition includes. Sour milk branded  INKOMAZI®, digwapa, Mageu®, Chibuku® Shake Shake, bojalwa jwa Setswana, traditional herbal teas such logwana, mosukutswane/mosukujane, longangale (dried thin strips of water melon) are some of the products with a high market potential and the need for intensified research on these is needed. 

In conclusion lessons could be learnt from the research and development conducted on Hoodia in South Africa and the discoveries made from the plant that are now enjoyed by the San community.  The findings have been licensed to a company in United Kingdom to conduct further research and invent a product that can be used for sliming and other uses. In the agreement between the San community as custodians of the hard and soft knowledge about the plant, entitles the San to an 8% of all milestone payments received from the licensee by South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as well as 6% of any royalties the Council receives on sales of the final product. Reports estimate that the milestone payments will amount to some US$ 1 to US$ 1.5 million, while royalty payments could bring additional millions to the economically poor San. The benefits to the San are not only limited to milestone and royalty payments.  If the project succeeds the San will be responsible for ploughing Hoodia, they will share more knowledge on other plants with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to develop more products.

For more information on Hoodia please read;