IN A scathing indictment of a draft government policy, Stellenbosch University’s intellectual property law unit has suggested that the "unsatisfactory" document on intellectual property be fundamentally redrafted to make it "comprehensible".

This is the conclusion reached by the fellows of the university’s chair of intellectual property in their submission on the draft policy document, which was released for public comment on September 4 by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Prof Owen Dean said the draft policy was full of contradictory statements and should be regarded as no more "than a first attempt to highlight some (but by no means all) the issues that may possibly have to be addressed in formulating a policy on intellectual property".

"Once the department has collected its thoughts properly on the issue of intellectual property policy, professional consultants, skilled in intellectual property and in drafting documents such as policy reviews, should be commissioned to prepare an appropriate document.

"In general, the document displays an alarming lack of understanding or knowledge of existing intellectual property law."

Departmental spokesman Sidwell Medupe would not comment on individual submissions and said all public comments would be analysed by the department after the closing date (Friday) and changes would be made where considered necessary.

Prof Dean’s critique relates not only to the shortcomings of the layout and presentation of the draft policy but also its confusing language and classification of subject matter, which he says often makes it "difficult to comprehend what the author is saying". Indeed, it has been described as "an incoherent stream of consciousness".

The draft policy was silent on crucial issues such as the implementation of international intellectual property agreements and ensuring that South Africa’s intellectual property law remains up to date. For instance, the document was silent on the Performers’ Protection Act, the Registration of Copyright in Cinematograph Films Act, the Counterfeit Goods Act and counterfeiting in general, and the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act.

Prof Dean said it was urgent that South Africa clarify its position towards the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty and the Performance and Phonograms Treaty — which it signed in 1996 but has never ratified — and to embody their provisions in law.