Harnessing the benefits of IP for development

In May 2019, WIPO hosted an international conference to explore, in practical terms, how developing countries can benefit from the intellectual property (IP) system in a rapidly evolving and globalized world. The International Conference on Intellectual Property and Development took place on May 20, 2019, at WIPO’s Geneva headquarters. The following keynote address by Ambassador Amina C. Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage of the Republic of Kenya, highlights the opportunities and challenges for developing countries in embracing the IP system to promote their social and economic objectives and ambitions.


“Climate change is a threat to our very existence and calls for accelerated innovation to mitigate greenhouse emissions and support the development of green technologies,” says Ambassador Mohamed (photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus / © martinwimmer).

The growing importance of IP

Intellectual property is a subject of increasing global importance. Policymakers have long recognized the need for IP rights to protect the inventions and creative works of individuals and firms. In an age when knowledge capital, the product of the intellect, has become an increasingly important basis of social and economic progress, IP has acquired unprecedented importance, and issues relating to the generation, evaluation, protection, and exploitation of IP systems have become crucial. In this context, the role of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in supporting the creation of a balanced and robust international IP rights regime that fosters innovation is critical.

The tremendous increase in IP applications witnessed in recent years reflects the growing importance of technology and innovation in the global economy and our daily lives.

WIPO has done outstanding work in balancing the delicate interests of all – developing and developed countries, the private sector, civil society and academia – and creating an environment that incentivizes private investment in innovation. I have no illusions about the complex processes involved in the development of international instruments for the protection of IP, having actively taken part in that process in the past.

Rising global demand for IP rights

As the Director General observed in his address to the WIPO Assemblies in 2018, “3.1 million patent applications, 7 million trademark applications and 963,000 design applications were filed in IP offices around the world in 2016. These are prodigious numbers and represent increases over the last 20 years of 189 percent, 253 percent and 388 percent, respectively.”

WIPO’s abiding commitment to its core mandate has made this progress possible. It is always refreshing to see how much WIPO is doing to build capacity, to provide technical assistance and to support the establishment of IP offices across the developing world. It is critically important to enrich this cooperation further, given the evolution of technology and commercialization of traditional knowledge and beneficial community practices. Resources devoted to technical assistance and capacity building need to be enhanced and directed towards developing countries to create a seamless global IP regime.

The tremendous increase in IP applications witnessed in recent years reflects the growing importance of technology and innovation in the global economy and our daily lives. Their importance will continue to grow as humanity responds to the critical global challenges of our time: climate change, global health and food security.

Climate change is a threat to our very existence and calls for accelerated innovation to mitigate greenhouse emissions and support the development of green technologies.

In health, we face the massive challenges of antimicrobial resistance, new diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and other threats, which require the development of new drugs and vaccines and new approaches to the delivery of health services and products.

With regard to food security, experts estimate that a 40 percent increase in the world’s population will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural productivity by 2050. This underlines the need for innovation in biotechnology and other attendant technologies, such as drones and robotics, to support sustainable agriculture.

“The complexity of the architecture of innovation, delivery systems and value chains requires creative approaches to ensure [all] people benefit from the IP system,” says Ambassador Mohammed (photo: Getty Images / E+ / © zeljkosantrac).
About WIPO Re:Search
WIPO Re:Search catalyzes the development of new medicines and technologies in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), malaria and tuberculosis. Through innovative research partnerships and research and development collaborations WIPO Re:Search makes IP available to researchers who need it.
The mission of WIPO Re:Search is to improve global health through innovation that mobilizes IP and the power of private and public sector collaborations.
Members of WIPO Re:Search include some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, prestigious academic institutions and product development partnerships.

Creative thinking required to advance the global agenda

While innovation has the proven potential to tackle these global challenges, the key concern of market failure remains. At the end of the day, innovations are profit driven. Individual or corporate innovators will only commit resources when they can be sure that their investments and the returns on those investments are protected. These factors continue to pose significant challenges to advancing the global agenda. In the health sector, for example, we have witnessed situations where lifesaving drugs are not available to those in need because they cannot afford them. We know that resources for research and development on some tropical diseases have not been available because the populations affected are too poor to guarantee good returns.

These scenarios raise the critical issue of how people who are excluded from the advantages of innovation can benefit from the IP system. What can and needs to be done to make the cycle of product discovery, development, and delivery responsive to the needs of the people who require these innovations without compromising the interests of the innovators? These are extremely important questions.

Within the health sector, the shift from a market-based innovation system to one driven by need and based on public-private partnerships (or international funding mechanisms, such as the Global Fund for AIDS) and underpinned by a strong IP system offers a way forward. Under these arrangements, needs are identified by public or global entities, which then bring partnerships and collaborations into play.

The same challenge is present in the other key areas for which innovation is required, namely, climate change and food security. For climate change, we need to address the challenges of ensuring the rapid diffusion of green technologies, such as solar technology, to all parts of the world. And in agriculture, key issues include whether the data gathered by agricultural drones and robots are patentable, and if so, how such protection affects their diffusion and use. In the field of biotechnology, there are also valid concerns about whether current IP rights regimes are adequate to address the use of nanotechnology, which is being deployed more and more in healthcare and other systems.

The Patent Information Initiative for Medicines (Pat-INFORMED) provides a service to the global health community, particularly those involved in procurement of medicines, by facilitating easy access to patent information.
Pat-INFORMED is an initiative of WIPO, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and 20 leading, research based biopharmaceutical companies.
Anyone can search the Pat-INFORMED database simply by entering a medicine’s INN (International Nonproprietary Name) to obtain relevant information about its patent status in a particular country. 
Pat-INFORMED is unique in that it provides a facility for procurement agencies to make follow-up inquiries directly with participating companies.
Pat-INFORMED currently provides information on key patents for all small-molecule products submitted by participants in the Initiative. It covers HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hepatitis C, oncology, respiratory conditions, and all products on the WHO Essential Medicines List that are not within these six areas.
The complexity of the architecture of innovation, delivery systems and value chains requires creative approaches to ensure people benefit from the IP system. At the core of these creative approaches lie partnerships that bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors to mobilize the required resources.
WIPO, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization have shown great leadership in this regard. In particular, I thank WIPO for the WIPO Re:Search and Pat-INFORMED initiatives, which facilitate the sharing of IP and scientific data across the health sector.

The potential benefits of protecting traditional knowledge and culture

The question about how the IP system can benefit holders of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources remains unanswered. To date, traditionally accumulated skills or knowledge relating to plants and animals on the one hand; and traditional cultural expressions, such as rituals, narratives, poems, images, designs, clothing, fabrics, music or dance, on the other hand, remain at risk of misappropriation and commercialization by unauthorized third parties with no benefits accruing to the indigenous communities responsible for developing them.

The need to protect this knowledge and these cultural expressions is acknowledged, and discussions on their protection have been ongoing since 2000. The result has been a wide range of agreements, laws and conventions, which have had limited impact beyond the jurisdictions of those sponsoring them.

Beyond the Convention on Biological Diversitythe International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and the Nagoya Protocol, no comprehensive international IP mechanism to protect these assets exists, as yet.

The whole world stands to gain from effective governance of this field of knowledge and culture; in particular, in relation to the generation of new products for nutrition, personal care and medicine, but also in relation to heritage-based cultural and creative industries.

In Kenya, for example, we are undertaking an exciting scientific study to validate the ethno-botanical knowledge of a traditional local plant long used by local communities as a natural contraceptive. Our aim is to develop an improved natural contraceptive, which will be of enormous benefit to women around the world who are facing serious threats to their reproductive health.

We appreciate progress made towards ensuring that traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources benefit from the IP system. And we hope that all parties involved reach agreement on outstanding issues to ensure that indigenous communities can benefit as well.

Leveraging opportunities in culture and sports with IP

IP systems promote and sustain creativity by ensuring inventors and creators benefit from their creativity and talent. The creative industries contribute significantly to world trade and the global economy. The value of the global market for creative goods doubled from USD 208 billion in 2002 to USD 509 billion in 2015.

I am confident that, as IP rights continue to be reinforced, this trend will continue – especially in the developing world, where IP rights in the arts are yet to be adequately exploited and enforced.

This also applies to sports, a sector worth more than 3 percent of world trade. Sports broadcasting rights, image rights, branding and advertising contribute significantly to the value of the sports industry.

The protection and commercialization of related rights in the arts and sports sectors offer an immense economic opportunity for millions of young people in the developing world who are seeking gainful employment. The protection and commercialization of sports image rights of well-known teams and sports persons in the developed world are inspiring examples of how IP rights can benefit sportsmen and women in other countries.

While enormous sports talent abounds in all regions, significant discrepancies exist in the ability of athletes to harness the value of their IP rights. Kenya and Ethiopia, for example, are famed for producing world class athletes – particularly, long-distance runners. However, these top athletes are not leveraging the IP system adequately.

Eliud Kipchoge, the current marathon world record holder and winner of the 2019 London Marathon, exemplifies great personal achievement, but does not benefit as much as he should from his sports image rights. His situation contrasts sharply with that of other top-class sports personalities, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, a top footballer, whose earnings are boosted significantly by the exploitation of his sports image rights.

A number of factors may account for this contrasting situation, but the role of IP rights in the promotion of the sports and creative sectors is key. In Kenya, as in many developing countries, appreciation of the value of IP rights in creativity, in general, and sports, in particular, is fast evolving. There is now widespread realization at the level of government that mechanisms need to be put in place to spur the use of IP rights.

Ambassador Mohammed observes that many developing countries now appreciate the value of IP right in creativity, and that there is “widespread realization at the level of government that mechanisms need to be put in place to spur the use of IP rights” (photo: Alamy Stock Photo / © James Dale).

Emerging challenges and opportunities

As IP systems continue to evolve in response to the changing global environment, considerable challenges and opportunities are emerging. These include:

First, the rapid emergence of disruptive technologies and the enormous impact they are having on existing IP regimes. These technologies present unique challenges for policy formulation and enforcement. For instance, the ability of creators to enforce their digital rights is a significant challenge at a time when Internet radio operates in a largely unregulated space. Coupled with this, there are huge differences in the technological capacity of different regions. This has important implications in terms of crafting effective development policies and building effective IP administration and governance systems.

Second, IP is increasingly global, yet IP systems remain largely national or regionally based. This poses a major challenge because IP rights granted in one jurisdiction may not be applicable elsewhere. This is not good for innovation, creativity or business. More coherence in this area is required.

Third, we need to recognize that, whereas weak patent protection can lead to suboptimal innovation, patent rights that are too strong make successive innovative work more costly. Similarly, ambiguous or broad IP protection regimes are unsupportive of growth, especially in relation to software patents.

Finally, although the world benefits from the work of women inventors, designers and artists, the gender gap in access to and use of IP rights remains a significant challenge. The gender gap matters because gender equality is a human right, and we are all better off when women and girls are empowered to make their full contribution to innovation and creativity. Data from WIPO show that less than one-third of all international patent applications filed in 2015 included women inventors. While a significant improvement on previous years, it is imperative that efforts are re-doubled to close this gender gap.

I am confident the ideas generated in this Conference will help strengthen the IP system for the benefit of the global community as a whole.