World Intellectual Property Report 2011: Status of Innovation in Africa

WIPO has just launched the 2011 World Intellectual Property Report titled: “The Changing Face of Innovation”, the electronic version is available here.

Although this Report admits that measuring innovation remains challenging, the following points/observations were noted by IPKenya:

1. Harnessing public research for innovation: Universities and Public Research Organisations (PROs) play a key role in national innovation systems. In middle income countries like Mexico and China the share of varsities and PROs in total basic research is between 80%-90%. In this regard, South Africa is mentioned as one of the middle-income countries which has shown a rapid growth of university and PRO patent filings under the PCT.

2. Innovation for economic growth & development: Since firms in less developed economies are, at times, far from the technology frontier, they have dissimilar technological requirements and innovate differently. Process innovation and incremental product innovation play a more important role in firm performance than does product innovation. Improvements in maintenance, engineering or quality control, rather than fresh R&D investment, are often the drivers of innovation. In this regard, Rwanda is cited as an example where local firms have introduced innovations in fields such as finance (e-banking) and telecommunications. IPKenya believes that Kenya could also be cited as an example.

3. Increased output of ICT industries: the US recorded the greatest output at 38% but Africa at 19% is cited as having also increased her knowledge-and technology intensive industries (KTI) as a share of GDP.

4. The importance of non-R&D-based innovation: The Report makes the point that the rise and globalisation of R&D is not the only characteristic of the new innovation landscape. Innovation not based on R&D, including non-technological innovation, is increasingly perceived as an important contributor to economic growth and development. The service sector in particular has increased its efficiency by reorganising business processes, in part facilitated by ICTs eg. Mpesa. In this regard, South Africa is cited as an example of a middle income economy where the innovation expenditure on new machinery and equipment (incremental innovation expenditure) exceeds 60 percent of total innovation expenditures.

5. Developing policy frameworks for Technology Transfer: The Report suggests that there are four distinct sets of countries. In the first set, there is no explicit regulation, but rather general rules defined in the law – mostly in patent acts – or legislation regulating research institutions or government funding.
A second model consists of laws in the form of national innovation laws. A third, adopted in Brazil, China, and more recently in economies such as Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa, builds on the model of high-income countries which confers IP ownership to universities and PROs, spurring them to commercialize. Fourth, some countries, for example Nigeria, Ghana and even Kenya, have no national framework but rely on guidelines for IP-based technology transfer.

In this regard, the Report notes that most African countries have not taken any legislative steps to to incentivize university and PRO patenting and commercialization. The exception is South Africa. In 2010, South Africa implemented the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed R&D Act, which defines a number of obligations ranging from disclosure, IP management and inventor incentives, to the creation of TTOs and policies regarding entrepreneurship.


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