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Intellectual property, key to unlocking a green future

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
03 May 2020   |   3:40 am
Demand for intellectual property rights is growing at a faster rate than the global economy, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Demand for intellectual property rights is growing at a faster rate than the global economy, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Its data show that 3.17 million patent applications were filed in 2017, up to six per cent on the previous year.

In its 2019 edition of the World Intellectual Property Report, analysing millions of patent and scientific publication records, the world body noted that innovative activity has grown increasingly collaborative and transnational while originating in a few large clusters located in a small number of countries.

Some 30 metropolitan hotspots alone accounted for 69 per cent of patents and 48 percent of scientific activity during the 2015-2017 period. They are mostly located in five countries – China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America (US).

The report also states that the rise of highly successful innovation hotspots has coincided with a growing inter-regional polarisation of incomes, high-skilled employment and wages within countries. While other factors have contributed to such regional inequalities, regional support and development policies can play an important role in helping regions that have fallen behind.

WIPO declared April 26, as the World Intellectual Property Day as a way to raise awareness on the importance of intellectual property – copyright, trademarks, patents and designs – and celebrate the contributions of creators and innovators.

Since the day was first commemorated 20 years ago, the world has experienced quantum leaps in the fields of entertainment, literature, music science, technology, medicine and commerce.

Trends in patent applications also hint at shifts in the balance of the world economy. Asia received about two-thirds of all applications in 2017, with China seeing the highest volume.

Much of this growth is happening in artificial intelligence — a field that threatens to render its inventors obsolete. There have been about 340,000 applications related to AI since the 1950s, and 53 per cent of all patents related to AI have been published since 2013.

Now, scientists are beginning to develop machines capable of coming up with ideas outside their creator’s expertise. This raises the question of who owns the intellectual property for an AI-generated invention.

While humanity has benefited immensely from these advancements, it has also faced mounting challenges brought about as a byproduct of those advancements. The depletion of the ozone layer, increasing global warming, acid rain, ocean plastic waste, water pollution, are some of these byproducts that threaten humans, animals and the planet on which everybody coexists.

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic made its catastrophic advent in Wuhan, China, the world had been given a fiery warning with the devastating wild fires that swept through the

Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and bio-diversity region, Australia, Indonesia and (annually) California in the United States. In short, 2019 was the year the earth was on fire.

The Coronavirus pandemic, leading to the near-total lockdown of the world economy, gives final warning to humans to be better custodians of the earth or face extinction.

At the same time, it is worrisome the ease with which fake and malicious news are digitally manipulated and circulated at the touch of a button. Such abuse of images and social media postings poses a threat to the integrity of traditional knowledge dissemination channels.

X-raying the theme of the day, Innovate for a Green Future, the Director-General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Dr. John O. Asein, stated: “The COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled virtually all sectors and industries has exposed the fragile ecosystem of the world in which we live and reminds us of the need to use technology, creativity and innovation in a balanced, responsible, human-friendly and sustainable manner. It shows the vulnerability of developed and developing countries alike and how the choices made in one part of the world today could affect and shape our common destiny tomorrow.”

Asein said, “the world can no longer ignore the consequences of unwholesome practices and innovations that threaten ecosystems, distort climatic conditions, deplete farm yields and foist untold hardship on people. The way out is to subscribe to environment-friendly innovation. This should be complemented by increased investment in green technology to achieve a low-carbon future for our world.”

He added, “despite the apocalyptic prognosis about the ongoing pandemic, the global response to it has been reassuring that humanity is able to use its collective power of creativity and innovation to overcome the challenge. Here in Nigeria, we are proud of the early indications of possible solutions in our traditional knowledge systems.”

For him, “Nigeria must continue to harness its rich diversity of traditional knowledge, and through a careful infusion of the modern intellectual property system, provide both positive and defensive protection for its traditional knowledge. With intellectual property, it can unlock its vast potentials and empower more communities to become global players in the fields of science and medicine. As the world marks this year’s IP Day, we urge academics and researchers to look inward and provide empirical support to help refine, validate and propagate our traditional knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

Observing that there was no better time than now for the world to appreciate the consequences of the daily choices we make in different areas of human life, Asein stated: “A green future should be one that also guarantees the protection of the nation’s biodiversity and the sustainable use of appropriate innovation, including traditional knowledge, to find simple, safe and sustainable solutions for daily challenges in health, wellbeing, food, shelter and environmental safety. This would complement the Government’s ongoing efforts at self-sufficiency and the vision for Nigerians to “grow what we eat and consume what we make”.

According to him, “The 2018 Global Innovation Index released by WIPO forecasts that by 2050, 85 percent of the world’s primary energy needs would be derived from renewables, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power. Countries are therefore encouraged to develop policies that support renewable energy. Fortunately, Nigeria is well endowed and it is already taking steps towards boosting the country’s performance index in the field of green technology.”

The Director-General urged everyone to embrace the campaign for a green future, adding that the Commission would continue to give institutional support as part of a national strategy for a balanced and robust intellectual property system that works for the wellbeing of the earth and the benefit of all.”

For the past two years since its incorporation in 2017, Friends of the Creator (Artistic) Foundation (FCF) has marked WIPD — in Warri (2018) and Lagos last year.

In deference to the social distancing imperative and the subsequent lockdown of cities and countries in a bid to slow down the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, WIPO opted for virtual celebration, rather than physical gatherings. “FCF agree with the imperative of keeping everybody safe so they can continue their creative and innovative work with safe bodies and sound minds. As a result, we shall only be offering this statement as our token of our appreciation of the significance and timeliness of this year’s theme,” Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo Chairman, FCF’s Board of Trustees said.

Ogaga added, “the 2020 WIPD called for innovation as a knowledge-driven solution to the lethal consequences of our unrestrained abuse of the environment couldn’t have come at a better time. FCF calls on the Nigerian government, first and foremost, and the private sector, including our universities and research institutions, to join the global technology revolution or risk leaving our country behind in the fossilised past. Even before oil prices plummeted due to very low demand in the face of the global lockdown, the world was already gearing for the shift to a green, clean and sustainable future. Nigeria cannot, now or post-Coronavirus, afford to depend on oil as “the mainstay” of the economy. And if Nigeria is to make that crucial shift, the indispensable role of IPR must also be given policy priority.”

As made clear by WIPO, only a ‘balanced and robust’ intellectual property right system can give the support necessary to the emergence of a green economy that works in tandem with the earth’s natural sustenance systems. We call on the federal government, working with the National Assembly, to formulate policies and enact laws that would stimulate creativity and innovation while also guaranteeing the robust protection and enforcement of copyright, patent, trade mark, design rights, geographical indication or appellation of origin rights, and even plant-breeding rights.” According to the board chairman, “FCF is of the view that, ultimately, even good policies and laws are not self-enforcing. They require citizens equipped with the right knowledge and motivated by a desire for change to realise their goals and objectives. The critical juncture where the world finds itself now prescribes a radical reassessment of priorities.”

While saying this requires a radical increase in the investment in education — which also demands the physical and curriculum rehabilitation of educational institutions and retraining of the teaching staff (in some instances, even in the universities), at all levels, FCF demanded that starting from 2021, education must have the highest budgetary allocation. “We have no doubt in the ability of our citizens, working alone or in collaboration with others in the universities, research institutes or other intellectual collectives, to innovate Nigeria out of its dangerous fossil fuel dependence and make us proud participants in the green, clean and sustainable economic future of the world. Innovation, of course, must be followed by development and the rise of an industrial economy spanning agri-business and manufacturing, for gainful employment and prosperity,” Ogaga said.