Tuesday, 5 November 2013

IP in developing countries - two tales

The two articles highlighted in this post are largely unrelated. One is from a fellow blogger on Kenya and the other from Goldman Sach's investment banking division on South Africa. Yet, they both highlight the role of patents in developing countries. One questions them and the other regards them as critical.

Isaac's column entitled "Faking it: time to rethink intellectual property in developing countries" notes that the lack of patents in Kenya is not due to a lack of innovation but rather a lack of patent expertise in the private sector, that "the skills needed to protect innovations via well drafted patents are scarce, almost non-existent" and that, from his own teaching experiences "there seems little incentive to acquire these skills". He then questions, much like the South African government is doing through their draft IP Policy feedback session, "whether the western notion of patents rights is the best system for Kenya?" and concludes that African countries, when considering their IP policies, should have "as much freedom as possible to accept non traditional (ie non-Wester[n]) solutions to the issues." which Afro Leo reads as more flexibility when implementing TRIPS.

Goldman Sachs' report entitled "Two Decades of Freedom, what South Africa is doing with it, And what needs to be done" documents some eyebrow raising achievements and observes that "patents" and "research and development" investment are on the top 10 list of where "Decisive Improvement" is required.

These two apparently disparate views are connected in the sense that they both see innovation as a positive measure of performance. Isaac, quite rightly, points out that "patenting" is not necessarily an accurate measurement of innovation. On the other hand, Goldman Sachs represents how investors think and that markers, such as patents and research and development, are a measurement of innovation, performance and investment potential. In many ways, this is because investors understand how to use, create, maintain and enforce intellectual property which is where this Afro Leo believes that resource should be allocated - you cannot just give someone a fighter jet, you gotta teach them how to use and maintain it, and you may have to also help pay for it, at least until it has has successfully returned from a few sorties.

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