Tag Archives: innovation

EPO action on Green Patents

Guat Hong Teh sent me this link to an article in Nature http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100505/full/465021a.html describing an EPO initiative to make clean energy patents easily accessible in a central database:

The EPO trawled through 60 million patent documents and re-classified clean-energy patents according to 160 technical categories, such as carbon capture and solar photovoltaics. This should make it much easier to find patent information. The database launches in June through esp@cenet (http://www.espacenet.com), a gateway to European patent databases. Last year, the EPO received 1,259 renewable-energy patent applications, up 27% from 2008, and the new database will be updated daily to include the growing number of energy patents filed at patent offices worldwide (see Going green).

This is a real groundbreaker and is part of a trend that includes a fast-track program for green energy patent applications in both the USA and the UK.

A reminder that CAS, particularly through working with ICRISAT, has been instrumental in ensuring that literature relating to CG innovations is included in EPO’s non-patent literature database. Victoria Henson-Apollonio observes that:

This ensures that patent examiners are more fully informed about prior art and helps make sure that patents don’t cover what is already known and has been put forward by others; and this results in better quality patents.

Back to green patents: check out the Global Innovations Commons.

As part of their public service program, financial and IP innovator M•CAM has assembled an impressive database of public domain IP – mostly expired patents –  in categories such as agriculture, soil erosion and solar energy.  This information is freely available, but…

…here’s the catch. We’re sharing this under a license. The license is really simple. If you use this information, you must share what you’re doing with everyone else. If you improve upon it, you must share your improvements with everyone else. And finally, if you use any of this information, you must reference the “Global Innovation Commons.” That’s it. When you take the next step, turn the possibilities into realities.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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“In India, Wal-Mart Goes to the Farm”

Increasingly, multinational companies are establishing raw material production in developing countries to feed their supply chains. An April 12th article in The New York  Times reported on Wal-Mart’s expansion in India and the establishment of its own local vegetable production to supply new retail stores.

Other companies have stepped out of their core businesses and invested in agricultural production to secure raw material supply chains. Michelin owns rubber plantations in Brazil, and Mercedes Benz and Leyte State University in the Philippines work together on a project that is intended to supply Mercedes with fibres from banana plants for car seats. Hoegh, a Norwegian logistics company, owns orange and apple plantations in southern Africa, using its logistical networks to produce and market locally produced orange and apple juice.

The question is, under what circumstances these investments happen and how they affect local markets?  Wal-Mart has engaged in supporting Indian farmers with training and inputs, and farmers are reporting increased yields.  Food prices are expected to drop when Wal-Mart expands this business model. On the downside, this model – with its tightly integrated supply chains – places more market power in fewer hands and, thus, might contribute to the consolidation of markets. The Times observes that:

Not everyone is happy about the company’s presence here. Many Indian activists and policy makers abhor big-box retailing, fearing that it will drive India’s millions of shopkeepers out of business.

In mature markets like Europe and the USA such effects are buffered by competition and regulation, but in less mature markets this might lead to farmer dependency on a single buyer.

But whatever the long-term outcomes of this trend, Wal-Mart (and others) have introduced innovative and sustainable techniques.  The Times describes how:

… visitors can see some curious experiments: insect traps made with reusable plastic bags; bamboo poles helping bitter gourd grow bigger and straighter; and seedlings germinating from plastic trays under a fine net.

 Post written by Sebastian Derwisch, consultant to CAS-IP

Improving services on intellectual property rights and developing a forum for research innovations on forestry in Indonesia

We have the great pleasure in presenting to you the third in a series of five working papers from five Agricultural Research Institutions in developing countries. Supported by the National Partners Initiative (NPI) of the Central Advisory Services on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP) of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), the Centre for Plantation Forest Research and Development in Indonesia (CPFRD) completed a case study on improving services on intellectual property rights at the center level and on setting up a Forestry IP Forum.

IPRs had never been an important issue within CPFRD, due to the general belief among its staff that all research findings and innovation generated in the centre ought to remain in the public domain. Through intensive discussions among the research managers, scientists and supporting staff within the CPFRD, a clearer understanding about IPRs and its potential role in stimulating research and innovation has evolved, and IPRs are now becoming one of the priority issues within the CPFRD. The centre has now developed some initial “IPRs Policy Guidelines”, a manual of procedures for IPRs application, and has initiated a Forestry IP Forum among forestry research institutions and practitioners in Indonesia.

These case studies aim to share country experiences from developing countries in the areas surrounding IP policy making, policy implementation and use of IPRs by researchers for leveraging more benefits to the stakeholders, people, institutions and countries.

The full text can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Post written by Karine Malgrand, Facilitator of the National Partners Initiative for CAS-IP

The British Council’s Copyright 2010 project

On April 9th the British Council is hosting an event at which a wide range of speakers will discuss new ideas and proposals for the future evolution of copyright to mark the week when the world’s first copyright act came into force 300 years ago.

The British Council’s primary goal is:

Connecting the UK to the world and the world to the UK, the British Council is Britain’s international cultural relations body…  In an inter-dependent, turbulent world we believe that creating opportunities for people to understand each other better, work together more and learn from one another is crucial to building secure, more prosperous and sustainable futures for us all.

You can visit their web site at: http://www.britishcouncil.org

According to the organizers of this event (one of whom is John Howkins – see the review of his new book at https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/creative-ecologies-where-thinking-is-a-proper-job):

The copyright act set out rules for the encouragement of learning, and established the principles of public interest, access and exclusivity that govern copyright today. This forum explores the question: “If copyright hadn’t been invented, what kind of copyright would we want…

CAS-IP was invited to submit a 500 word contribution to the discussion and you can download this at link.

Francesca Re Manning, the lead contributor to our submission, will (we hope!) be able to attend the event and she will no doubt write about what happens.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Seed InfoTech: Critical data on seed soon to be available in Malawi

As part of our market development support for ICRISAT’s seed sector mission, I have visited eight countries in Africa over the last year and talked to farmers, agrodealers and seed companies.  In every case, complaints have been leveled at the seed certification process – too slow, inefficient, no data.  In most cases, no information was available on how much land was being used to grow seed, or how this broke down between crops.  Last October, after meeting with staff at the Seed Services Unit (SSU) in Lilongwe, it became apparent that “carbon paper” record-keeping was a significant factor and that the right software could probably make a big difference.

The outcome of this investigation was that I recently met Gerard Sylvester, an ICRISAT systems analyst from Hyderabad, in Malawi.  After mapping the various tasks which are managed by SSU, he was in agreement that the right software could indeed increase SSU’s efficiency significantly. Irish Aid agreed to fund the development of a database application.  The first module will be completed by July;  it will address land registration and will enable SSU to start analyzing valuable data on land usage and seed crops.  This data will inform other interventions that ICRISAT and others are engaged in implementing.

As I have talked before about this kind of intervention (grassroots driven, low cost, scaleable), here are the steps:

  1. Grassroots feedback indicates that seed certification is inefficient; there are bottlenecks which in some cases have resulted in a shortage of certified seed (e.g., rice in Northern Senegal, 2009).
  2. An intervention – in this case software – is designed.  Organizations involved with or with an interest in seed certification are consulted, and the feedback is positive.
  3. A modest investment is provided to develop the first database module.
  4. If the first module has a positive impact on the roadblocks, we will again seek feedback on how we propose to develop the capabilities of the database.
  5. After at least six months of real-world testing, the software will then be made available to SSUs in other countries.  Funding will be secured for translations into other languages as the need arises, and for training.  TOSCI (Tanzania Official Seed Multiplication Institute), the certifying agency in Tanzania, has been collecting data and has expressed strong interest in the database.

The next step will most likely be a module to track the rest of the certification process.  One of the features we will discuss in the future is a learning module to enable inspectors to update their skills and their knowledge on a regular basis.  Other developments might include wireless devices for data entry and farmer queries from cell phones.  And, at the appropriate time, we will discuss if and how to measure the economic impact of the project.

In fact, this is a “sub-program” of the Irish Aid-supported Malawi Seed Industry Development Project that is already incubating at least three other interventions (genetic markers, localized seed production, umbrella brand) that satisfy the criteria.  But you cannot predict what you will find out three months after the budget has been finalized by the donor; some budget flexibility is necessary to enable these kinds of “rapid responses”, and Irish Aid has been open to this when something new supports their overall mission.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

IP issues in the launch of MASA – The Malawi Seed Alliance

Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP, is on the road in Africa working on several ICRISAT projects.  He sent the following update:

On behalf of CAS I’ve been working with ICRISAT over the last year on the Irish Aid funded Malawi Seed Industry Development project, and we decided to launch a stakeholder alliance to support the work – making certified legume seed more widely available.

While small holder farmers in Malawi now purchase maize seed every year, most legumes are still grown from farm-saved seed (grain).  Experience suggests that trust in the source is a major factor in the adoption of new varieties and new crops.  In order to support small new seed companies and new seed retailers (mostly agrodealers), we proposed the development of an umbrella brand which could be used by all stakeholders in the supply and distribution chains.  ICRISAT agreed, and this plan will be supported by a marketing campaign to let farmers know about the benefit of buying certified seed and where they can buy it.

The issue I am very focused on right now is a practical application of my response to Ethiopia’s G.I. legislation (https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/ethiopia’s-gi-bill/) as follows:

It would be highly desirable to allow agrodealers who have passed through one of ICRISAT’s Seed Production and Marketing programs to display the MASA logo with a caption such as “MASA certified seed dealer”.  But as this branding exercise is all about trust and reliability, how can we ensure that a dealer does not pass grain off as certified seed by using one of the MASA branded seed bags we plan to distribute?  A few days ago I went out to Kasungu and discussed this with a group of five agrodealers who had participated in the first training.

Agrodealers in Malawi

Standing, from left : Elias Mpumila, Noel J. Sambo, Mathews Malata. Seated, from left : Mary Kazombo, Goodwin Kasale.

When I asked them about the “trust” issue, they made these observations:

  • the success of our businesses depends on our relationships with the farming community;
  • if we sell our customers a product which does not perform we risk losing business;
  • it is very much in our interests to make sure customers are satisfied with the products and services they buy from us.

This makes a lot of sense but does not rule out the odd scofflaw who decides to profit by selling grain in a seed bag marked with the MASA logo as certified seed.  One of the Alliance partners – NASFAM – proposed that we trade mark the MASA logo and name;  we had planned to do this, but – as in the case of Ethiopia – we will not have any enforcement mechanisms, so the risk factor needs further consideration.

Several days after writing the above, I met with another group in Dwangwa who had formed an agrodealer association.  They had invited two tribal chiefs to join the discussion and it soon became evident that the association viewed entry into the seed market as a significant development for the local economy.  When I raised our concern about possible misuse of the MASA branded seed bags, the two chiefs responded by telling me that this would not happen – they would raise the issue at community meetings.  After further discussion it became evident that informal “self-policing” would take place in this area and that we could encourage similar activity in other regional markets.

As the benefits so far outweigh the risks, we are moving ahead to trade mark the MASA brand, develop a license agreement and signage for the agrodealers, and ensure that appropriate MASA-branded seed bags are ordered prior to the harvest.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Innovation, big business & “glocalization”

Jeffrey R. Immelt, Vijay Govindarajan, and Chris Trimble have written a paper on what they call “glocalization“:  http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/10/how-ge-is-disrupting-itself/ar/1

GE has developed low cost products for emerging markets and then found they could sell them at home.  (If you do not subscribe to HBR you can purchase the full article, otherwise just the abstract is available.)

This same “reverse innovation” was covered by Business Week at:

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jul2008/tc2008076_973163.htm?campaign_id=techn_Oct13&link_position=link53

“The qualities that make a product good for the developing world—sturdy, cheap, adaptable, modular, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, computer platform-neutral, and bandwidth-savvy—make it a good product, period. Suddenly “less is more” goes from abstract design ideal to the only viable option. This is why some of the most innovative ideas today are coming from efforts to address the needs of those most in need.” (BusinessWeek)

The article describes a number of innovations, from hardware to software, from a wind-up flashlight to storm-tracing software, that were developed to address the needs of developing countries but have found markets in the West.

This is an encouraging trend; it suggests that more R&D funding may be available to support the development of products and processes that will find their initial markets in developing and emerging economies.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP