Interview with Michael Ryan, Director, Creative and Innovative Economy Center 31/03/2006 by Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.The Creative and Innovative Economy Center was launched on 1 January at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. Intellectual Property Watch sat down with Director Michael Ryan recently to discuss his views on industry and development, the project, its funding, and how it plans to influence policy in developing countries. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH (IPW): Can you tell us about the new centre, why was it set up and what is its mission? MICHAEL RYAN (RYAN): The Creative and Innovative Economy Center has been established at George Washington University’s law school because … the dean and a number of the members of the faculty were really, really excited because it fit in strategically with their own goals about how they see George Washington and its role in the world, and especially wanting to build relationships in developing countries. Our centre is mostly oriented around developing country issues. There will be some things we’ll do that will not be directly related to it. “Growth economists teach us that if you want a high growth economy, it only comes in one way, and that is by having innovation and creativity in your economy. That’s like the grounding for our centre. Let’s study creativity and innovation in developing countries.”The language ‘creativity and innovation’ is actually language we were quite deliberate about. And that is that we’re very interdisciplinary intellectually [between business and law]. … Growth economists teach us that if you want a high growth economy, it only comes in one way, and that is by having innovation and creativity in your economy. You also have to have stable macroeconomics. To give you an example, I was speaking with the health minister of Botswana a couple of weeks ago, and she said, ‘our government [is] praised within Africa, internally and externally, because we’re one of the most stable governments, but our growth is anaemic.’ And I said, growth economics can immediately answer that question: you’re not integrating technology, innovation and creativity into your economy. By contrast, look at the more or less 10 percent growth that’s been going on in China for the last 20 years. They have been integrating technology into their economy. That’s like the grounding for our centre. Let’s study creativity and innovation in developing countries, let’s try to come to a much better understanding of what are the legal and policy and the institutional, meaning social institutions, educational institutions, and then what are the sort of market and business issues that are associated with encouraging more creativity and innovation in your economy. IPW: I’ve noticed a number of companies that have signed up to the centre are from the United States. What is the opportunity for US companies in this? RYAN: We [also] have partnerships with nine African universities, and I’m working on a number of relationships that I can’t disclose yet because we haven’t closed the deal, but are with European organisations, and then we’re also working with organisations in a bunch of different developing countries. So I do want to clarify that it looks a little bit more American right now than it’s going to look say if we all come back together again six months from now. But your question is about why would an American company want to support us. One reason is that in the long term, most of these companies recognise that a big part of the growth in their business is going to be in developing countries, and if those developing countries have anaemic growth, then that means their market opportunities are much fewer than they could or should be. Take for example … people have finally discovered … that most of the economic growth that has occurred in, I think it’s the last five or 10 years, has come from Brazil, Russia, India and China. And since we know that it’s the innovation and creativity thing that’s critical, this is probably the biggest reason of all. IPW: So how does what the centre does relate to those opportunities? Are you guiding these governments toward economies that use technology and IP? RYAN: Yes, but I wouldn’t put it exactly that way. That would imply that we’re going to be advising as a matter of McKinsey-like strategic analysis, advising companies on where they should be going. That clearly is not going to be the case. Instead, how I would put it is, our strategy is to try to identify some key countries in every region of the world and try to focus our initiative there, and to do a combination of studying what’s happening and providing more education about it. To give you an example: though the centre just started officially on January first, I’ve actually been working in Jordan for six years now. Usually that’s because of USAID, but it’s not always. The Royal Scientific Society of Jordan several times invited me, and the King Abdullah Intellectual Property Center sometimes invited me. So I’ve been … helping with the reform process, the WTO accession, free trade agreement, founding ‘intellectual property week.’ I have been doing this for a long time, and I have a sense for if you can choose certain countries and try to work with them what will happen is I think they will become models. So we’ll learn because we’re being generalisable, we’re studying in every region of the world. IPW: Can you describe how you work with a government? Is it an advocacy role? RYAN: That’s not exactly what I think our role is going to be. Basically we’re students and teachers. It sounds like puffery to say, ‘Mike Ryan’s going to go around advising governments,’ I don’t know, maybe somebody will ask me for my advice. Instead I would say this, the Nigerian representative said to me the other day, ‘Thank you for your report, this is really helpful because this report explains what the role of policy in institutions is in promoting innovation, then shows us data to show that it has had a measurable impact in a very important country like Brazil, which is one we look to for leadership.’ Now if that happens consistently, then we’re doing our job. We’re going to release these reports and if we make them useful, if we make them targeted on their concerns, then they will learn from them and decide maybe that there’s things they should model. “What I look for in some country, I look for somebody to be the champion. When that happens, then the locals are the people who are really wanting to engage.”The study of Brazil is very interesting because Brazil has perhaps the most extraordinary amount of biodiversity in the world. A good deal of the last 100 years of biomedical innovation have been by taking, by screening compounds, out of flora and fauna, and despite that, the world’s greatest source of biodiversity has not been used very much, and that’s Brazil. What’s very interesting to us is that after some policy and legal changes, now several of their local companies are involved in finally trying to develop their own biodiversity as well as their own traditional knowledge. If we think about the critical case that we found, which is that a product that has actually been released on the market by a company … [that] started with traditional knowledge, which is what told them there was something to go look for, they isolated the compound which was from a plant, and then they carried out clinical trials in partnership with a university hospital, to prove that it was effective and safe, and then they put it together as a new product. Oh, but let’s also point out that they got filed for international patent protection, in the US, in Europe, and to the PCT [WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty] to make sure they’d have protection in a lot of countries around the world, because they said, this product will be a terrific product that can reach a very big marketplace because it works on issues like sore joints. They’re not only looking at their biodiversity as a source of innovation, they’re looking at a global strategy which could end up leading to them helping in encouraging Brazilian exports. And furthermore, this means the Brazilian strategy could become the model for other developing countries. There’s a lot of countries that have a lot of biodiversity, whether you’re talking about southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Central America or sub-Saharan Africa, … they have a good amount of biodiversity, they have universities, and they have a good deal of talent. [In] many countries around the world … the academic community have been in many cases educated in the United States and Europe. These are highly sophisticated people who have the intellectual tools to do some very important things for their countries, but the problem is that they can’t themselves develop a new product. In Brazil it only happened when the companies were able to partner with the universities, and that only happened after the patent laws were strengthened and applied to biomedical products, and then that only happened when they had [a government] organisation which would actually provide funding for the partnership. Ultimately, in order to solve the problems of the negotiation of the contract between the two sides, they passed a law to clarify all those relationships, … [which] will encourage more of these kinds of partnerships. This is easily replicatable in other countries around the world, and think of the potential impact. If it is the case that 10 percent of the world research budget is devoted to 90 percent of the world’s population, meaning that the poor people around the world who have special disease problems – malaria, tuberculosis – wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were the case if you had people in developing countries who know exactly what the local health problems are, if the system was designed to encourage them to innovate new products, just as the Brazilians have done in example one and are in the process of doing with other research projects that they have going on. What our study in Brazil is showing is that the solutions [for developing countries to build knowledge and human capital] have to do with how you build the right kinds of institutions to leverage the knowledge you have … [and] support public-private partnerships. IPW: So in some ways, the centre could be considered a conduit for bringing these things about. How would [experts in developing and developed countries] come together as a result of your work? RYAN: I will say how. We’re not a consulting firm. We have an active programme of educational programmes, and one of the kinds of things we do are roundtables. So for example we called this [February meeting in Geneva] a roundtable to release this [Brazil] report. The idea is with a roundtable you try to bring together somewhere between 20 and 50 opinion leaders, where you can have … an informed discussion and dialogue. We have planned roundtables in various countries around the world. Before the centre officially existed last fall, I hosted a roundtable in Nigeria with ministers from around sub-Saharan Africa, carefully targeted, there were only like a dozen of us in the room. We came to together to talk about creativity and innovation issues, we talked about various models around the world, we talked about Jordan a good deal by the way. Then we all left saying, how could we carry this forward with additional research in our countries and ultimately create programmes, we meaning the governments. [I]n more or less May … is a roundtable in which the minister I was talking to said, ‘I’m going to bring together critical people within the government, several people from the private sector, several people from universities.’ [T]here are going to be about 15 to 20 of us, and we’re going to report the Brazil study, and secondarily we’re going to talk about the Jordan story. What I look for in some country, I look for somebody to be the champion. That somebody probably has to be a government person, it could be somebody outside the government, but anyway you need a champion who says, I’m going to bring everybody together and we’re going to focus on this question. When that happens, then the locals are the people who are really wanting to engage with that question. It has to be at their own initiative. “Most of the funding is probably going to come from public monies. Personally most of what I’ve done in the world up the point where the centre was created has been through public monies.”It’s also the case that we’ll be carrying on educational programmes. We’ll probably mostly call them seminars. It is the case like with the event here in Geneva [during the February WIPO development agenda meeting] where the Nigerians were showing a ‘Nollywood’ film, it is the case that there is an economics of the so-called cultural industries, film, music, video games and art. We might have people from the ministry of culture and from the arts community and say from the private sector, who are their local book publishers or their local film directors, we’ll maybe bring two dozen of them together and put them into a two-day educational programme oriented around teaching the economics of it, successful business strategies, and then talking about the policy and legal and institutional environment you need. For example, how you need to have one of your local universities develop a film programme, film studies, maybe writing, perhaps cinematography, it will depend on the country environment. IPW: What about policies governments need to take or not take, such as create some incentives or maybe remove some barriers? Would you be knowledgeable about the specific policies in each country, or how would those be addressed? RYAN: What we will probably tend to do overall is to talk more in general and let the local governments make the decisions about how to do things. Most countries around the world had TRIPS-compliant copyright laws before TRIPS was passed, because it wasn’t really that controversial to many of them. One of the things we’ll be teaching is, you have to have the copyright laws, you have to have the patent laws, you have to be enforcing them, we’ll be able to teach these kinds of principles, but the details about how they’re going to court enforcement, or how they’re going judicial settlement, frankly I don’t want to get into the details of that. That’s something that the locals should decide amongst themselves. I can only teach about principles and let them decide how they want to do the details. IPW: You have a lot of sponsors. How much does it cost to become a member? Is it varied depending on whether they are private sector or a public institution? RYAN: Basically how it works is that most of the funding is probably going to come from public monies. Personally most of what I’ve done in the world up the point where the centre was created has been through public monies, because it was USAID calling me in various places around the world, it was the US embassies in various places around the world, it was WIPO, I’ve been many times a WIPO lecturer, consultant, doing studies. The study [on Jordan] that comes out in a couple of months by the way is joint WIPO study. When we gather a year from now, it’ll be the case that we’ll have an annual report which Frank [Pietrucha at Definitive Communications in Washington, who has been working with Ryan for eight years] will do, it’s due next January, it’ll list these kinds of things about how much money we spent, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be mostly public sector support because they are the ones that have the large budgets. It is the case that private sector companies are providing some support which is … tertiary to the kind of major funding. What the private sector support provides actually is ultimately some bridging money. It helps me be able to go after big contracts to be doing educational programmes. They’re soft dollars [from the private sector]. It costs me money to have a staff. IPW: I saw on the website quite a list of researchers. For a month or two old organisation, you’ve corralled a pretty good team. “I believe it’s the case that five years from now, … we will be able to show that in certain countries, laws were changed, policies were changed, activities happened that resulted in growth. It’s taken me 10 years to get to this point.”RYAN: In our brochure I list these 10 principles from which we’re operating. I’ve known this for more or less 10 years. I’ve been trying to pull this all together as a centre, rather than the random, ‘Mike is invited by USAID here, Mike is invited by WIPO to go there.’ I’ve also believed that I had a coherent sense for this in a way that I don’t think many of the organisations I actually work with do. I believe it’s the case that five years from now, we’ll have a lot to talk about, as a matter of shall we say, measurable outcomes. We will be able to show that in certain countries, laws were changed, policies were changed, activities happened that resulted in growth. It’s taken me 10 years to get to this point. We will have studies coming out regarding music, regarding film, regarding information technology, and a handful of other things, information and publishing, software, and they’re in specific developing countries around the world, I wasn’t blowing smoke. We are going to have all that. They’re going to be coming out over the coming year. What I usually try to put together is a team of someone who is more or less a law professor or someone who is highly skilled in law, with someone who is more of a business management professor. With the idea usually being that we need to bring together two skill sets. In some ways, I have both, which is why the previous work has been mostly by me. Like this Brazil study has been done by me, that’s because I know pretty much the law, and I also know the business management issues. I know the institutional as well as the market issues. So we’ll bring together these teams and be able to do these studies and hopefully have impact with that. IPW: In Washington, every think tank, I don’t know about academic institutions, is known to have an orientation on one side or another on issues. Does the centre have a known orientation on issues? “I’m very pro-multinational company, because I have to be pro-local company and to be pro-local economic growth. The country that walls itself from multinational activity is going to have a big problem with local knowledge and learning.”RYAN: If there’s something, it’s that people know I’m totally pro-creativity and innovation oriented, and I want to make it happen. Local governments know that, the US government knows that, and WIPO knows that, and they know that I work really, really hard on trying to put together all the kinds of understanding, shall we say, the laws, institutions, policies, courts, business sectors, etcetera. So I think that’s what our public image is going to be, our public image is probably going to be a reflection of what my public image has been. It’s a fair characterisation to say that I am very pro-business. I’m very pro-business in developing countries, and I’m very pro-multinational companies. You can’t ultimately be pro-business in local economies if you’re not pro-multinational companies.[Business school faculty] have learned that the most important flows of knowledge in the world come through multinational companies. And what business school people have learned is the best way to integrate new knowledge into your country is through multinational activity, it’s through their trade activities, their marketing activities, their investment activities. Which is why it’s the case that I’m very pro-multinational company, because I have to be to be pro-local company and to be pro-local economic growth. The country that walls itself from multinational activity is going to have a big problem with local knowledge and learning. IPW: On the list of sponsors for the centre, how do I better understand how companies and others got on it, who gave more or less and who is responsible for which activity that the centre carries out? RYAN: With the companies, they don’t sign on for us to [do] a particular thing. They write a check to us, and with that check then we carry out our whole range of activities. What I basically say to them is, ‘Here’s our agenda, and if you’d like to be a part of that agenda, then help us.’ It’s sort of like being a Baptist minister. We carry on all these missionary works, so the Baptist minister says, ‘Please reach into your pocket and give us support.’ We are going to have some USAID funding that we’ll be able to announce in the not-too-distant future, and those of course will be country-oriented because that’s how USAID operates. So when you see us doing a whole bunch of stuff in country X, Y or Z, we’ll all be able to say, it’ll all be public knowledge that that’s being funded by USAID or one of the other US government things. “What I basically say to them is, ‘Here’s our agenda, and if you’d like to be a part of that agenda, then help us.’ It’s sort of like being a Baptist minister. We carry on all these missionary works, so the Baptist minister says, ‘Please reach into your pocket and give us support.’”The second part is, yes, we’re obviously young, we don’t have a $50 million dollar budget or anything, we’re not an enormous outfit. I don’t know how big Jeffrey Sachs’ operation is at Columbia University, but I’m pretty sure it’s bigger than my operation. But I will say this, we already have the funding for what we’re doing. We’re doing eight research projects this year, I think it is, we’re doing at least two more roundtables in Geneva during this calendar year, and we’re doing at least two roundtables in developing countries this calendar year, and we’re doing at least several seminar-like things in our Munich centre. So that’s a very ambitious agenda for the first calendar year, for the first 12 months. It is the case when you’re in my role you’re constantly figuring out where you can do more and how you can fund to do more, but we are basically busy this year. The number of people you see there, those are projects. Those aren’t people who are going to maybe do something someday for us. IPW: The people on the staff are not sitting in the centre, but are doing work outside too? RYAN: Right. Take for example Professor Nolan at Georgetown. He specialises in looking at software in developing countries, especially India and Czech Republic, and so we’re funding him to do another project on India and software. So that’s what we’re doing. They’re not all people on our staff, it’s not like we’re one building with 50 people in it. Instead, what we’re doing is providing targeted financial support to people and then maybe putting together a partnership of two people who might not have known each other before but now will work together. IPW: Thank you. Michael Ryan is the Director of the Creative and Innovative Economy Center launched on 1 January at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. He has served on the faculties of the University of Michigan School of Business and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and School of Business. He is author of Knowledge Diplomacy: Global Competition and the Politics of Intellectual Property (1998). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where his “cognate” area was law. The center will conduct “research and educational” activities encouraging developing countries to “embrace creativity and innovation as tools to compete more effectively in the world economy.” Ryan and his associates will focus on more than a dozen topics in 2006, including biomedical innovation in Brazil and Jordan, software in India, music in Southeast Asia, health security in Africa, technology commercialisation in Korea, publishing in Eastern Europe, and intellectual property administration in the Middle East. The university’s law school is expanding its international focus and has established a consortium with the Max Planck Institute and others at the Munich Intellectual Property Law Centre, as well as a partnership in India. 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