Intellectual Property plays a crucial role in the Innovation System. This was the focus the INSMEAcademy session held on the 20th of March 2019 that took benefit from the expertise of two high level professionals from the World Intellectual Property Organization – WIPO (INSME Member), Ms. Tamara Nanayakkara and Mr. Giovanni Napolitano.
Intellectual Property is a very complex topic to deal with as it comprises a diversity of elements that have different means for protection:
- Innovative products and processes need the registration (or renewal) of patents
- Cultural, artistic and literary works are protected by copyright
- Creative design finds its protection in the design rights that have to be registered (or renewed)
- Distinctive signs are protected by trademarks
- Trade secret protects confidential business information.
Nevertheless the innovation system is strictly linked with intellectual property issues and Ms. Nanayakkara referred to two main pillars of the innovation system:
- the knowledge base consisting of all those entities involved in knowledge production like universities, public research organizations (PROs) and industries committed in R&D;
- the industrial/service sector including mostly SMEs that are widely supported by the policy framework.
According to the speakers the IP system is a powerful tool to incentivize the creation of knowledge. Innovation is often risky, time consuming and costly, it requires time, efforts, people, but once an innovative output/knowledge has been produced it becomes a public good and there is no mechanism to limit its use and exclude other people from exploiting the results of that innovation. This can be frustrating and discourage the production of knowledge. What IP does in this framework is to create an artificial system enabling the possibility to choose if third parties can be excluded from the exploitation of an innovation for a given period of time. Having the ability to own and control what has been produced is an incentive for people to engage in research and development.
IP also acts as an enabler to transfer the knowledge produced by universities and PROs to the industrial/service sector. This is translated in the ability for research institutions to effectively deal with the industrial sector in order to bring what they have developed into the market.
According to the speaker as far as knowledge remains a public good nobody will invest in it, while IP could encourage the willingness to put money in a certain product.
From a policy perspective an effective IP system that stimulates the production of knowledge is required and there is also a need for a good management of the IP. This raises diverse challenges in many countries, especially in emerging ones where usually there is no management of IP in universities, neither in SMEs and startups, there is a scarce level of collaboration between universities and industries, there are few IP professionals, there is not a systematic use of patent information in research, there is no IP education neither R&D, there are not policies to support local innovation. There are numerous challenges a country has to face and WIPO can offer support to overcome some of these challenges.
WIPO can help policy makers by supporting countries to understand the innovation system, how the technology management should be structured in a way that makes the research produced by the universities easy to transfer to the industrial sector, how to license it or how to have their own spinoffs and also how the income distribution is managed.
An IP Toolkit has been also developed by WIPO experts and it is based on two main elements: 1) a check list for policy writers which is a step by step information on how to prepare such policies 2) a template which is basically a list of the possible options and related consequences. The toolkit also includes an academic intellectual assets map, models of agreement to provide potential users with a basis on contracts concerning innovation/knowledge transfer and management and hypothetical cases that help to understand which could be the practical situations and how to solve them.
IP is very important for all SMEs as well, but the innovative ones are particular sensitive to the topic as they are:
- More likely to be based on an innovative product or service
- More likely to collaborate and partner
- More in need of startup funding and investment
- More likely to be looking to export.
Despite the importance of IP, innovative SMEs do not use the IP system for different reasons:
- The process to obtain IP rights requires a lot of time and is quite complex
- They find that obtaining, maintaining and prosecuting IP is too costly
- They do not want to risk the disclosure of sensitive knowledge
- They often have a very limited awareness of the IP system and its usefulness.
WIPO focuses on this last element and try to support SMEs in this regard.
Finally Mr. Napolitano highlighted WIPO’s commitment towards a closer collaboration between universities and SMEs and in this framework is implementing a series of projects, one of this is in the Philippines and aims at matching what universities are doing in terms of areas of research. WIPO strongly believes that it is crucial to encourage countries to bridge the gap between the research carried out by universities and the needs that SMEs may have.