Category Archives: innovation

IP4inno training: free online sessions

The European Commission project IP4inno is offering a series of free Virtual Classroom Lessons (VCLs) during February and March.

These virtual sessions are tasters for training that will take place later in the  year.  More materials are available on their website or by topic below:

Monday 20 February 14:00 – 15:00 CET
Module 6B – Selling the message: how to convince SMEs that IP matters

Monday 27 February 14:00 – 15:00 CET
Module 5C – Business strategies for enforcing patents

Monday 5 March 14:00 – 15:00 CET
Module 6A – IP in the ICT sector

Monday 12 March 14:00 – 15:00 CET
Module 6A – Biotechnology patents

Update on the Myriad (gene patent) case

There has been movement on an important gene patent case that we have followed in the past, the “Myriad” case. For more information take your pick from a range of posts on the subject on Patent Docs

PatentlyO summarised, “Guest Post: An Interesting Preview of Myriad?

“The Myriad case from the Southern District of New York, involving patent eligibility of DNA isolates derived from naturally occurring DNA, drew a great deal of attention. The court basically held such isolates ineligible for patent coverage as being too similar to the natural substances, and hence barred by the product-of-nature case law.”

This sounds like good news?  Well, even if it were as simple as that, it’s not over yet.  The case is now on appeal at the Federal Circuit. To be continued…

“Will patenting crops help feed the hungry?”

Will patenting crops help feed the hungry?” asked an article on The Conversation last week.

Interesting points made in the article include:

“In some cases, where new technologies are useful in the developed world as well as in developing nations, it may still be useful to patent those technologies. Such technologies can be licensed to seed companies in the developed world for commercial gain, whilst still providing the technologies “for free” elsewhere.”

“In the developing world, we have a policy of making technologies freely available, whether patented or not. Even if we have a patent on a gene, we can provide a no-cost license in developing countries; many large companies do the same”

“Without gene patents we would have less innovation, a solution that wouldn’t help food security at all.” (…)

Good to see solutions such as no-cost licences aired as ways to use IP in a development context.  There are alternative ways to work within the existing structures – and more discussion on these would be welcomed.

Thanks to our friends at Agrobiodiversity blog for sending the link.

Innovation in Africa

Article written by Stanley Kowalski from the  International Tech Transfer Institute, “Why America must advance innovation in Africa” tackles the issues behind why “An innovative African economy is in the best inter­ests of the U.S.

This is an interesting debate at a time when all public funding is being questioned.

Kowalski’s article says (emphasis added):

“The infrastructure, systems and resources that promote innovation will be the foundation for sustainable, knowl­edge-based economic development in Africa in the 21st century… Stulti­fied policy agendas must yield to dynam­ic strategic planning and coherent program implementation. Ad­ditional discussion and more money alone will not create a solution. In­stead, partnerships and programs must focus on promoting long-lasting outcomes, prioritizing capac­ity-building that generates a steady flow of essential innovations.

As Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution, stated, “The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent stan­dard of living for all mankind.” We must therefore stop viewing Africa as a chronic burden and start viewing it as the key partner in development for this century.” (…)

For full article download the PDF here

“Food Security Needs Sound IP”: IPRs critical to meet the demands of a growing population

This article in The Scientist “Opinion: Food Security Needs Sound IP”  starts with the all too familiar population projections for the coming years, and the subsequent pressure this will put on agriculture.  It goes on to point out that techniques and technologies will be required to meet this challenge – and that IPRs will need to be improved in order to promote the necessary technology transfer to areas most in need.

“The effective use of research and IPR can help drive delivery of innovative and productivity-increasing technologies crucial to agricultural and economic growth and achieving future needs for food security. The key is to match the proper IPR mechanisms with specific conditions, and to manage them effectively and efficiently to promote innovative research, technology transfer, wealth creation, and overall societal benefit.”

The authors outline some pathways for  supporting “the sensible introduction and diffusion of new agricultural practices and technologies” which include:

  • encouraging enforcement of national laws that comply with TRIPS
  • proactive access to modern biotech (including patent pools and open source licensing)
  • collaboration (including a supportive community of IPR practitioners!)
  • continued building of IP portfolios by national agricultural research institutions.

This is a great opinion piece, looking forward to reading more results from the studies from Washington State University in this area.

Google’s move into hardware – and tech patents, and an update on patent trolls

Google’s announcement that it will buy mobile phone manufacturer Motorola Mobility will turbocharge the proliferation of the Android OS.  But the $12.5 billion deal may be more about IP.  Unlike Apple, IBM – and Motorola, Google does not own a lot of patents.  But the acquisition includes a 17,000+ technology patent portfolio that Google will be able to use both defensively and offensively.

 American Public Media’s technology reporter Steve Henn:

“If you steal someone else’s idea, you can get taken to court and you’re supposed to pay for it. But lots of software developers believe the U.S. patent system — especially when it comes to software — is just broken. It’s a total mess. There are literally thousands of patents issued for the same ideas. You know, for example, just in the last few years, Amazon was awarded a patent for creating social networks…..

….So Google, Apple, Microsoft have all gone out shopping, buying up thousands and thousands of patents. Most analysts believe it’s largely for the purpose of suing each other”

High tech players regularly game the patent system.  So Google will now have substantial leverage (and probably some trump cards) if and when sued by another player for patent infringement. You can read, or listen to, the story “Why Google wants to buy Motorola Mobility.” And make sure to read the comments!

Relevant to this discussion, I added a comment, by way of a “P.S.”, to my recent post on patent trolls.  My concern was that non-operating entities (NPEs) would start to acquire agricultural patents and expose development projects to this kind of “gaming the system”.  I subsequently visited the web site of a leading NPE, ‘Intellectual Ventures’ and discovered that they already have a portfolio of agricultural IP (emphasis added):

“Invention Portfolio: Broad Technology Market Coverage: Agriculture, automotive, communications….”

 Post written by Peter Bloch

AGRA seedco grantee featured on BBC TV news

The Faso Kabo Seed Company, Bamako, Mali, has aggressively promoted improved seed provided by the West Africa Seed Alliance to farmers in Mali and beyond.  The innovative nature of the venture scored an AGRA grant for the owner, Maimouna Coulibaly in 2009.

You can watch Komla Dumor’s interview, which focuses on an improved, disease-resistant tomato variety, with Madame Coulibaly at “Planting seeds of success in Mali” and read a “success story” featuring the seed company “Finding Hope in Farming (Mali)

Access to improved seed – or the lack thereof – continues to be a major factor in low agricultural ouput across Sub-Saharan Africa.  In this case, however, the fruits of agricultural research are reaching small-holder farmers.

Post written by Peter Bloch 

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

New Book from PIIPA: Intellectual Property and Human Development

PIIPA – Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors – recently published this book, subtitled Current Trends and Future ScenariosPIIPA is a non-profit that provides pro bono IP legal counsel to governments, businesses, indigenous peoples, and public interest organizations in developing countries that seek to promote health, agriculture, biodiversity, science, culture, and the environment.  The email I received announcing the launch provides this description:

“…(the book) examines the social impact of intellectual property laws as they relate to health, food security, education, new technologies, preservation of bio-cultural heritage, and contemporary challenges in promoting the arts.

It explores how intellectual property frameworks could be better calibrated to meet socioeconomic needs in countries at different stages of development, with local contexts and culture in mind. Scenarios for the future are discussed.”

You can download the book at http://piipa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=99&Itemid=77

There are nine chapters covering everything from traditional knowledge to education. I read Chapter 3 – Food security and intellectual property rights: Finding the linkages which seek to:

 “… identify some of the connections and linkages between food security and IP, particularly in terms of how the right to food as a human right may become affected through policy and legal restrictions and limitations imposed by the very nature of IP.”

 The authors believe that:

 “The balance between controlled access and free access (to food) is at the core of the IP system. There are strong voices saying that the balance has shifted too much towards protection, effectively undermining the dissemination of new, applicable knowledge.”

I’ve excerpted a few key points from the Chapter as follows:

“• A farming community that finds a new way to keep plants safe from rodents is no less innovative than an employee of a company that invents a new strain of rice in a company lab.

• The extension of IPRs – specifically patents – towards rewarding innovation in the area of living organisms was only developed in the 1970s and the ‘real’ repercussions have yet to be fully understood.

• One important question from a human development viewpoint in relation to IPRs is whether the latter create incentives for agricultural research and technology transfer which support a diversity of farming models and are relevant to the situation of poor farmers, who need to improve their harvests but cannot afford huge investments. The industrial farming model prevalent in many developed countries has steadily been transposed to developing countries and LDCs.”

Coverage of the subject, with its complexity and interconnections, is exhaustive, and addresses the impacts of IPRs on farmers’ rights and practices; the growing concentration of economic power in sectors involving farm input suppliers; the privatization and patenting of agricultural innovation, and the diminished role of public sector R&D in agriculture.

The implications of the MDGs, PVP, CBD, TRIPS and ITPGRFA are well covered, and there are suggestions for future development, including national and community-based seed banks; stimulating collective participatory breeding; protecting and promoting the TK of indigenous communities, and exploring open source or cross-licensing structures.

In their conclusion, the authors observe that:

“The crucial balancing between access and incentives, as well as an acknowledgement of the various alternative options that should exist parallel to IPRs, is recognized in a recent report to the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (WIPO 2009, paras. 286–288). Such recognition ought to provide an opening for different approaches to IP legislation which take into account national circumstances, and not uniform, harmonized models based on the laws of developed countries.”

This book is an invaluable resource. I would add one critical factor – the need for a higher level of reporting on and dissemination of innovations that do work and the contributing success factors.  Leveraging these investments by enabling others to benefit is an important piece of the equation, and NGOs should not withhold what are, after all, IPGs.  A good example of sharing is the recently published The New Harvest – Agricultural Innovation in Africa, an invaluable record that may guide a new generation of innovators.

Post written by Peter Bloch

  

The Other Side of Innovation

Solving the Execution Challenge by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble (Harvard Business Review Books) likens innovation to climbing a mountain where reaching the summit is THE goal. Companies often approach innovation in this way, focusing only on completing an innovation cycle. But execution – commercializing and launching products or services that are driven by the innovation – is critical to success. Xerox PARC is a good example; the mouse and the GUI were both developed at PARC, but Xerox failed to develop or execute a commercialization strategy, leaving Apple to reap the rewards. Govindarajan and Trimble point to Kodak, which blew a potential lead in digital photography. They look at how to avoid this kind of lost opportunity.

You can find a review of the book and of Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership by Warren Bennis at http://www.economist.com/node/16888745

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP