3D Printing and the Policy Implications

Some thoughts for the Policy Landscape on IP

By Prof Berhanu Abegaz, Executive Director, The African Academy of Sciences(AAS), Nairobi, Kenya and Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Nairobi, Kenya.

Additive manufacturing, popularly known by the colloquial ‘3D printing’, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created.

Ranging from bionic ears to hand guns, from car parts to prosthetics, from printed houses to printed drones, there is now an inexhaustible list of artefacts that are now 3D printed. 3D Printing is becoming increasingly popular around the globe and is expanding at an incredibly fast rate. Although it is still to take off fully in Africa, the continent needs to be prepared for the policy and legal implications that it might create. Some of the uses of the technology will re-introduce previous regulatory conundrums that dominated the debate on the international IP regimes. Africa was subjected to the harsh consequences of the international IP regime and emerged out of it as a victim rather than a beneficiary.

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LEARNING BY TOUCHING: 3D Printing for Education

By Prof Henry Thairu Chair of the Commission for University Education, and Director of Consultancy Services, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.

Early this year, the BBC ran a headline story by the Director of the OECD’s Directorate of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, titled ‘China opens a new university every week’. At this rate China is set to overtake the total number of graduates in the Western world and perhaps in the rest of the world.

This change is not only in the numbers but also in the type and quality of education. The preferred subjects are STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects with 40% of the graduates in 2013 having completed their studies in STEM subjects. Recent years have witnessed nearly a million PhDs in STEM being awarded each year in China. The bar is higher for the new graduates as new thresholds are awaiting them in the world of innovation and technological advancement. The graduates are trained for high value, high earning jobs requiring high skills and are required to equip themselves with the new skills the future market wants them to have.

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Dr Cosmas Ochieng, Executive Director, ACTS and Dr. Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, Senior Research Fellow, ACTS

It is common tradition that every nation wants to make and preserve their leaders’ portraitures in the best way possible commissioning the best artists, sculptors and photographers. 3D Printing technology is now providing the most precise portraiture ever. Obama’s 3D printed bust will be unique not only for the way it was made but also for being the closest likeness of the President himself. Unlike the other

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By Dr Bitange Ndemo, Associate professor, University of Nairobi

“3D Printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

President Barack Obama

Did you know that in 1990 a novel project to manufacture motor vehicles in Kenya was abandoned due to the high cost of building five prototypes? Today new technologies such as 3D printing are making it possible to not only develop prototypes at a fraction of what it cost a few years ago but also provide us with the capacity to create more complex products than ever before.

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3D: Printing Africa’s Development

By Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)

A common perception about emerging technologies in the context of developing countries can be captured by the ‘sour grapes’ argument – that such technologies are beneficial but unaffordable – a thinking represented in Aesop’s fable of the hungry fox who cannot jump high enough to reach the hanging grapes and has to give itself the pretext that they are probably sour.

Some in developing countries often resort to the same reasoning that emerging technologies though revolutionary and beneficial as they may be are unaffordable for them and have to wait for years before they can adopt them. This line of thinking needs to be challenged as the reality suggests otherwise.

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