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CANBERRA — Intellectual property experts from the Asia-Pacific region are gathering in Sydney, Australia, this week to encourage countries in the region to look beyond trademarks to better leverage their potential.

The International Trademark Association conference also plays a role in fostering greater education and awareness of IP among developing Pacific nations.

IP works best when it is a link in a chain of innovation with national policies and funding. Encouraging an innovation environment that leads to new industries and job growth can help build sustainable economies in developing countries.

Pacific and other developing nations face a range of challenges including violence, health care, and natural disasters, so fostering an IP-rich economic system is rarely a high priority. Yet there may be a role for development players to help create the groundwork to identify when, where, and why to push IP, balancing it with development objectives.

What can IP bring to developing countries?

Genevieve Wilkinson, a lecturer in IP at the University of Technology Sydney, explained to Devex that IP’s benefits to developing countries will differ from region to region.

“The benefits and advantages of using IP to foster economic growth depend on the standards of IP that are being used and the capabilities of the developing countries,” she said. “The more developed a … country is, the more likely its economy has sufficient sophistication to benefit from the resulting increased investment.”

A 2017 study conducted by INTA in Southeast Asia looked at the contribution of trademark-intensive industries. The study focused on Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

The contribution to gross domestic product of industries varied from 17 to 50 percent in the studied countries. As a contributor to employment, they supported 13 to 30 percent of all employment in the countries.

“Trademark-intensive industries, and beyond that, IP-intensive industries, have a very significant contribution to the economies of these countries,” said Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of INTA.

These trademark-intensive industries consisted of both national and international corporations, though the research did not detail what fostered an IP-friendly environment.

It highlights the potential economic benefits and aims to be a stepping stone to further research into understanding what policy, social, and economic factors are required to support these industries to help developing countries in their planning.

“Not every country has an IP strategy, and we do believe this can foster entrepreneurship and economic development,” Sanz de Acedo said. “IP strategies should look at registration, they should look at enforcement, they should look at promotion, and they should be looking at education as well. IP is an intangible asset, but is very important to companies, SMEs [small- and medium-sized enterprises], startups and individuals.”

Work has been conducted to harmonize IP registration processes, with the aim of making protection simple and affordable. But Sanz de Acedo said that it remains complex for some countries and is not as cost-effective as it should be.

Supporting an IP economy while balancing development needs

INTA develops policy papers, resolutions, and model laws to support governments in creating the system and laws required to foster innovation.

“You need a full range of projects and initiatives,” he said. “But you need a solid IP ecosystem and this requires strong laws and good registration mechanisms and strong enforcement mechanisms. This rewards the work that is involved in local companies, SMEs, and entrepreneurs, and encourages foreign investors.”

Education is a critical factor, said Professor Natalie Stoianoff, director of the intellectual property program at UTS.

“There is a need to educate even the general public,” Stoianoff told Devex. “People need to understand what IP is about. Too often people get confused about what is copyright, what is patent, and what is trademark … And you need to know your rights under IP laws. Not knowing this will impact options and opportunities for developing countries.”

Education is an area aid and development programs can better assist by supporting international IP offices — and organizations such as INTA — in providing technical support and sharing knowledge.

But aid and development, Wilkinson believes, also has an important role in encouraging a sustainable approach to commercialization and development that comes with investments turning IP into local industries and jobs.

“Developing countries should not be pressured into automatically including unnecessarily high IP standards into trade agreements,” Wilkinson said. “They should be encouraged to conduct assessments of the impact of these standards on sustainable development.”

Wilkinson explained that IP levels can impact the ability of a developing country to provide cost-effective access to medicines or regulate tobacco advertising. These health implications are relevant to sustainable development — and these are important for them to consider in developing systems, with the help of donors.

“Developing countries should be encouraged to think about how they can calibrate IP standards to be consistent with sustainable development objectives,” she said.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.