Intellectual Property Creates Space For Competition In Innovation, WIPO Head Says

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Intellectual property is an available space in which any country can compete, but certain policies are helpful, the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization said today. And he described a global geographic shift in innovation away from Europe and the United States.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry addressed the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which is holding its 64th session from 29-31 March. The session is focusing on economic integration in the UNECE region, taking into consideration new challenges brought by the economic crisis, and on the role of regional integration and cooperation for promoting sustainable development in the UNECE region. Economic integration is the facilitation of trade between countries by removing trade restraints.

UNECE brings together 56 countries located in the European Union, non-EU Western and Eastern Europe, South-East Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and North America, according to its website.

Gurry told the meeting that innovation is central to economic growth and to the creation of new and better jobs. It also is key to increasing competitiveness at every level, countries, industry and companies, and is a source of improvements in people’s material lives. Intellectual property catches the value that is added to production, he said.

IP is “the space in which all countries would like to compete,” he said. “Nobody wants to compete on the cost of labour and not everyone can compete on the basis of physical resources, so the value added by the intellect, essentially, is the space which is available to all countries in which to compete.”

Dramatic changes have occurred in the last 10 years in the geography of innovation, with China now the largest investor in real terms in research and development in the world. China also passed the United Kingdom in 2008 and France in 2009, in international patent applications filings.

Looking at statistics for demography and economic production, “quite extraordinary” changes have happened, Gurry said. In 1913, 33 percent of the world population was located in Europe and North America. In 2003 this figure dropped to 17 percent, and in 2050 it will be 12 percent, he said. In terms of economic production, in 1950, 68 percent of world economic output came from Europe and North America, in 2003, it was 57 percent, and in 2050 it could be 30 percent.

In the 20th Century, institutions worked in isolation on their own innovation needs, but in the 21st Century, there is a shift toward more open systems of innovation and institutions and enterprises now work collaboratively to satisfy their innovation needs.

Innovation, and more generally education and science, have become internationalised with research and development delocalised around the world and 22 percent of scientific articles being internationally co-authored.

Government policy needs to adjust to a “total knowledge policy,” Gurry said, starting with education, which is the first step before getting to the commercialisation of knowledge and then using IP to convert this knowledge into commercial assets.

The role of universities is also growing with more technology transfer offices within universities and national legislation being enacted in many countries to encourage transfer knowledge from universities to the productive sector. Last year, the University of California was the 22nd largest filer of international patent applications in the rank of countries. So this university system alone filed more international patent applications than 160 countries around the world, Gurry said.

Gurry also encourage UNECE members to stress “connectivity and connections”, such as the global education, scientific and technological production, which “is crucial for the sort of model that is emerging for innovation in the 21st Century.”

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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