Sunday, 23 June 2013

Intellectual property for open innovation

This Leo also attended the Knowledge for Development: Freedoms, Networks and Innovation - Third Annual Workshop of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) in Cairo attended by fellow blogger Isaac Rutenberg (see his post on Ancient Egypt and IP here  and the workshop agenda here). 


photo by thinkpublic CC BY-ND 2.0

The second day of workshop focused on the The Open African Innovation Research and Training (Open A.I.R.) Project's research (summarised here).  The talk about Open Innovation and IP within the African context by the University of Ottawa's Prof Chidi Oguamanam, raised a series of interesting issues for me (and hopefully, for Afro-IP readers). First, what is innovation and what makes it 'open'? Second, how is it impacted by IP? Third, how, if at all, does geographical context matter to this discussion? 


To my mind, open innovation comprises of creative processes that produce goods or services  in a manner that is characterised by sharing, is collaborative and/or cumulative in nature. IP is relevant to such innovation to the extent that facilitates said sharing and enables creators to reap some benefit from their creativity, either through commercialisation or socialisation. Geographical context matters because the type of innovation is influenced by local socio-economic conditions as creators seek to solve prevailing problems. An example is the 'SavvyLoo' created by Dudley Jackson to provide sanitation facilities in rural areas and informal settlements. This invention was a finalist for the 2013 Innovation Prize for Africa (see announcement of finalists here and of the winners here). The SavvyLoo has been patented and made available for use/licensing via the Innovation Hub's Open Innovation Exchange here. Dr Jackson's innovation fits snugly into the existing IP system hence its protection by a patent followed by attempts to commercialise it. Other African inventors find themselves in a very different position as their innovation falls short of patentability criteria and is consequently not measured by conventional metrics which measure innovation by the number of granted patents. Such innovation is typically incremental, lacks inventive step (is considered obvious) and thus is denied patent protection. This raises the further question of how African IP systems ought to be nuanced in order to measure and enable all types of  innovative processes and resultant innovations to foster creativity and ultimately, socioeconomic development? Whatever the answers are to these vexing questions, it is clear that they have to be localised and informed by prevailing soci-economic conditions.  

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