Cameron calls for Europe-wide patent (again!), Obama for more basic research

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, UK Prime Minister David Cameron presented an address entitled “A Confident Future for Europe” in which he discussed innovation:

“… we’ve introduced a patent box offering a ten per cent tax rate on patent income. But action like this will be worth little if we can’t break the deadlock on a Europe-wide patent system. Do you know how long we’ve been discussing this? Almost forty years. The truth is we can talk all we like about making this continent the capital for innovation…but while it can cost up to thirty five thousand euros to get patents in just thirteen member states, it’s never going to happen.”

You can read his entire speech at:

http://www.weforum.org/news/david-cameron-speech-davos-confident-future-europe?fo=1

Cameron’s plans to boost innovation came hot on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union address in which he proposed to increase government funded basic research. You can listen to Obama’s speech, or read a transcript at: http://stateoftheunionaddress.org/2011-barack-obama.  He said:

“We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the worl…The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation…

…Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.”

So what is the impact of all this on developing countries? In the majority of SSA countries, electricity reaches less than 3% of the rural population.  Various studies (e.g., http://www.ruralpower.org) show that rural electrification affects poverty, education, drinking water, farm mechanization and post-harvest processing.

We have already seen positive impact on rural farming communities where NGOs have introduced simple, inexpensive solar stoves.  Competition between China, the USA and the EU to research and develop new sustainable energy technologies could have real impact in the South.  These innovation programs could result in inexpensive and more efficient solar energy collection and storage technologies which, over time, could dramatically increase access to electricity by the rural poor.

But increased innovation will not necessarily produce ecologically sustainable technologies for developing countries. In order to direct the innovation process towards sustainable technologies additional measures – like green taxes – might be necessary.

Another problem for developing countries is to access such technologies that are developed by European and American companies. Patent pools and public private partnerships could make such innovations available for developing countries. This highlights the role for the CGIAR: to engage in PPP´s to facilitate the transfer of agricultural technologies.

Post written by: Peter Bloch, Sebastian Derwisch

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