Caribbean policy-makers should tackle intellectual property issues head on now
In the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) report for 2011 titled ‘The changing face of innovation‘ that focused on the growing trend of creation and exchange of intellectual property rights (IPRs) among both developed and developing countries, it was disclosed that there was a growing demand for IPRs. This was directly related to the growth in innovation especially in the area of knowledge markets based on IP rights, a key element of which is the frequent trading and licensing of IP rights among firms. Royalty and licensing fee revenues internationally, had grown from US$2.8B in 1970 to US$27 B in 1990 then to US$180B in 2009, far greater than the global GDP. There was also the observation about new market functionaries in the business of intellectual property rights, such as brokerages and clearing houses. Firms had specialized in particular areas of endeavour and had increased their levels of innovation and efficiency while increasing controls over which kinds of information were released or kept confidential. Maximized learning in open innovation initiatives to allow for greater creativity was also found to be a significant factor along with the control of information.
Other key developments include the patenting of complex technologies, which are defined as technologies that comprise several different areas, each of which is patentable and which may have separate owners. This is especially applicable to communication technologies such as software, optics, audio-visual technology, tablet computers and smart phones, which have given rise to companies creating large portfolios of patent rights to the extent that it is felt that the process of innovation is significantly slowed because of the overburdening of patenting systems. It is proposed that efficient patent institutions are essential to the functioning of this system in order that the growth of innovative systems might not be hampered.
The report revealed that several countries established systems and policies that would harness public research for innovation, such as the creation of incentives for universities and other public research organizations which create patents and go the further step of commercializing them with the result of an increased rate of patent applications by these institutions. It was also found that filings by universities and public research organizations under the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty increased from minimal in the 1980s to more than 15000 in 2010, which could be attributed to the high income economies such as France, Germany, Japan , the United Kingdom, and the United States, though middle income countries have also made significant contributions to this trend.
Among the important developments in this area suggested by this WIPO document were that while the high income countries maintain high levels of investment in research and development (R&D) low and middle income countries have increased their levels of participation and spending by 13 per cent between 1993 and 2009. Increased publications in peer-reviewed journals in the relevant fields of science technology with co-authorship of an international nature along with a list of patents with inventors from more than one country were a clear indication of increased international collaboration in those fields. It also concluded that societies benefited greatly from the collaboration in research and development, which led to IPR creations and new technologies. Multilateral firms increasingly locate their research and development facilities within other countries, which has resulted in increased economic activity and growth in middle-income countries.
The argument is made, however, that IP protection can shape creative and innovative policy in a substantial way: “IP protection is a policy initiative that provides incentives for undertaking creative and innovative activity. IP laws enable individuals and organizations to obtain exclusive rights to their inventive and creative output. …IP rights are an elegant means for governments to mobilize market forces to guide innovative and creative activity. They allow decisions on which innovative opportunities to pursue can be taken in a decentralized way. To the extent that individuals and firms operating at the knowledge frontier are best-informed about the likely success of innovative projects, the IP system promotes an efficient allocation of resources for inventive and creative activity.“
This is all very compelling information that favours the implementation of IP rights, policies and laws that can forge the development of this industry in the Caribbean region and which are critical to the development of the region. The major question is, what is the policy plan of the regional governance organization as regards the development of IP policies , strategies, and a cumulative legal and regulatory framework? There are several economic, political and sociological factors that have stymied the process of IP development in the Caribbean region, but the time has surely arrived to craft the policy and legal framework which will allow the Caribbean region to partake in this area of global development. In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the significance of indigenous IPRs and IP issues in climate change. While Caribbean governments have discussed these issues, there has been far too much talk and too little effort in garnering expert analyses which could help in the formulation of regional policy. There is the imminent danger of the permanent relegation of the region to mindless consumerism of the dictates, policies and technologies of the rest of the productive world, and the eventual loss of any notable identity that excepts sun, sand and sea. Caribbean policy-makers need to quickly grasp that intellectual property issues cannot be wished away and must be tackled head on right now.