Sunday 26 April is world intellectual property day – a day to celebrate the role that intellectual property rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity.
In this article, James Snaith describes the work of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in helping to bolster innovation and creativity around the world, as well as highlighting the resources available from WIPO to those seeking knowledge on IP.
Intellectual creations are inherently international concepts. Innovative and creative works developed in one country can be shared, replicated and adopted in another. With this in mind, the intellectual property (IP) system exists to provide a framework to foster this sharing of intellectual creations while also enabling the creator to benefit.
However, IP is complicated. The substantive laws and procedures for obtaining and enforcing these rights are heavily nuanced and variable. A lack of professional expertise in IP disproportionately affects those in developing countries. There simply aren’t enough locally qualified professionals with the requisite knowledge to navigate the nuances of the international IP system and this has a knock-on effect in overall innovation and creativity.
This effect can be illustrated in a number of ways, but per-country patent filing statistics are particularly stark. At the European Patent Office, almost 1.6 million patent applications were filed between 2010 and 2019. However, of these, only 4 came from Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Even taking the top 10 African countries by GDP, we find less than 1,500 applications over the same period. That’s less than 0.1% of the total number of patent applications, for a group of countries making up around 10% of the global population.1
Clearly, knowledge in IP is not the only rate-limiting issue that developing countries face, but it does play a role.
WIPO has a developmental agenda tasked with levelling the playing field here and a number of initiatives are part of this. One such initiative provides locally delivered, face-to-face patent drafting courses for participants in developing countries. WIPO runs around 20 of these each year and I have been lucky enough to lecture on several of these around the world.
The courses provide a week of intensive lectures and practical workshop sessions which run through the basics of patent law and drafting. After the week, education is continued in an online follow-up session where specific assignments are given for participants to complete on a remote basis, with individual guidance and feedback provided by the course lecturers.
Participants typically range from local IP professionals to technology transfer officers and academics. Their knowledge level is variable, but the course structure is designed with flexibility in mind, to go at the pace of each group and each participant.
As a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN), WIPO aims to make the global intellectual property (IP) system work for everyone. This includes facilitating access to tools and capacity-building initiatives on the use of the IP system to promote innovation and creativity, and therefore economic and social development. Development is at the heart of WIPO’s mandate and so is development-oriented technical assistance for developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs)." Marcelo Di Pietro, Director, Office of the Deputy Director General (Development Sector)
Clearly, the courses cannot provide comprehensive teaching on these topics (a week is very short, bearing in mind the average European patent attorney trains for around 5 years). However, they do provide a foundation on which participants can build further knowledge and skills. The feedback we receive from these courses is overwhelmingly positive and local patent offices of the countries involved are keen for further courses to be held as often as possible.
WIPO funds these courses completely – they are free to those in attendance and expenses are paid. Beyond the courses, WIPO has extensive online distance learning materials available via the WIPO academy. This covers all aspects of IP and has courses both for those new to the field of IP and to professionals looking to improve their skillset. Much of this content is free and the paid-for content is heavily discounted for participants of developing countries.
I encourage anyone seeking to improve their knowledge on IP to consult the WIPO academy.
From a personal perspective, participation in these courses has allowed me to see first-hand the impact of the international IP system on the developing world. I believe it’s important for the IP community to engage with initiatives such as these, to do just a little bit to help address the IP knowledge gap in the developing world.
Happy world IP day!
For more information please contact James Snaith or your usual Kilburn & Strode advisor.
1European patent applications 2010-2019 per country of residence of the applicant (https://www.epo.org/about-us/annual-reports-statistics/statistics.html).