IP Professionals Discuss Tech Transfer Potential In Humanitarian Business At WIPO

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A global business association held a meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization this week on IP market developments, including increasing opportunities in technology transfer for commercial purposes. The intimate gathering featured a line-up of high-level speakers, including WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

The Licensing Executives Society International (LESI), a US-based association of IP business professionals, held its second Global Technology Impact Forum (GTIF) from 20-22 January. Hosted at WIPO, the event was attended by about 50 participants representing government, industry, research, and private foundations.

The full agenda is here. Under the theme, “Business and NGO Collaboration for IP Driven Economic Development,” panel session topics included IP driven economic development, commercial IP development, and humanitarian technology transfer.

Highlighting the private nature of the event, non-governmental organisation Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), pointed out that the international event was not featured on the WIPO events calendar.

However, James Malackowski, immediate past president of LESI, told Intellectual Property Watch that “everyone is welcome, the more the better” and attributed the low level of public outreach to the fact that the second forum was “more of a working session than the first one.”

WIPO Looking for PPPs

During the first day, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry gave an intervention during a panel on “Intellectual Property and Innovation Policy,” highlighting the organisation’s achievements in its aim to improve the global IP system. Examples included the recently signed Beijing Treaty for the protection of audiovisual performances; the anticipated treaty to improve access of public works for visually impaired people; and progress toward agreement on broadcasting and designs.

In the context of “global economic behaviour” and “global uses of technology” in a world of national IP regulations, Gurry underlined the importance of international legal framework to “ensure an even playing field and try to prevent recourse to technology protectionism.”

Additionally, Gurry discussed the growing importance of cross-sector collaboration with the growing importance of public-private partnerships and foundations in the international sphere.

Noting that WIPO would be “looking increasingly for public private partnerships”, he announced that the private sector would be involved in the organisation’s annual general assembly for the first time this year with “at least a half-day devoted to listening to the enterprise sector”.

Also during the first day, WIPO’s Chief Economist Carsten Fink presented [PPT] the organisation’s latest statistics published in the report, “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2012”. A key finding presented was the growing number of IP filings in 2011 despite the sluggish global economy (IPW, WIPO, 12 December 2012).

“No one knows better what is needed in an LDC community than an inventor who lives there.” – Thaddeus Burns, senior counsel of IP and Technology Policy at GE

Targeting the “Bottom of the Pyramid”

A reflection of new business opportunities in the realm of humanitarian endeavours, the theme of the second day “Invent for Humanity” including a panel on how IP fits into technological progress and sustainable growth.

Commenting on the humanitarian focus, Malackowski, past president of LESI, told Intellectual Property Watch, “It will be a growing area of technology transfer in the next three to five years, including transfer for commercial purposes.”

“The bottom of the pyramid, as they call it, is a very large market that people are just beginning to understand how to serve with a profit motive,” Malackowski said.

In an effort to facilitate technology transfer for businesses of all sizes, LESI is seeking to create a virtual toolbox comprised material needed to facilitate transfers, such as standard contracts and lists of best practices.

GTIF participants had the opportunity to edit a LESI resolution on IP Business Principles [Word], which was developed based on input from the association’s board and last year’s World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on IP. http://www.weforum.org/content/global-agenda-council-intellectual-property-system-2012

The list of ten principles is part of a 2030 vision of IP and how practices should be shaped to fit the needs of the future economy and the fair protection of innovation to serve humanity. LESI leaders plan to revise the draft based on GTIF participant feedback present a finalised version this year for their members’ use as well as other organisations.

The role of IP in humanitarian endeavours varying in scope and size was explored through a few case studies during a second day panel, which was chaired by Jennifer Brant, director of Innovation Insights, an initiative bringing technology provider perspective to the Geneva community.

Jon de Bufanos, managing director of Natural Innovations, the company behind the Wonderbag, an insulated sac that works like a slow cooker to save on energy and cooking time, discussed his experience managing the company’s IP as it grows internationally. According to the website, the company sold some 500,000 products as of June 2012 and has plans to expand sales in 15 other countries by 2015.

He said that one of his key leanings was that “protecting IP is expensive,” asking participants, “How does a small organisation with global intentions and global goals go about protecting IP in a cost-effective way?”

“Policy Paradox”

Thaddeus Burns, senior counsel for IP and technology policy at General Electric, shared results from the GE Global Innovation Barometer 2013. The international study surveyed over 3,000 business executives on the drivers and barriers to innovation, including IP policies.

In what Burns called a “policy paradox”, business executives were divided between globalisation and protectionism. According to the study, “71 percent of executives preferred their government prioritize domestic innovation promotion, while 71 percent also wanted their governments to further open markets.”

Burns commented that one of the main reasons deterring companies from collaborating with other companies is a lack of IP protection in partner countries. However, he insisted that partnership is the best way for companies to grow.

“No one knows better what is needed in an LDC [least developed country] community than an inventor who lives there,” Burns said.

Richard Wilder, associate general counsel at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation presented the foundation’s various public health funding options, which includes grants, contracts, and program-related investments (PRIs). The philanthropic giant works with a wide variety of actors from public, private, academic, and NGO sectors.

On the private foundation’s IP policy, Wilder said, “Our primary goal is to construct and manage foundation-funded projects and the resulting products, services, processes, technology, materials, software, data, and other innovations in a manner that ensures global access.”

Additionally, Berhane Gebru, director of programmes at FHI 360-Satellife, a US-based non-profit organisation specialising in health information and technology solutions in developing countries, discussed several examples of how the organisation is improving systems across the globe.

He commented on the “complexity of relations between diverse actors” and “the culture gap” that he faces regularly between private, public and voluntary sectors. “Reaching consensus becomes a necessary evil,” Gebru said.

2013 Awards

Two LESI/GTIF award recipients were announced 21 January during the reception and dinner, which was held at the Mandarin Hotel, one of Geneva’s top five star hotels. The USPTO was awarded “The National IP and Technology Transfer Policy” award for its Patents for Humanity programme; and Solar Sister, a social enterprise seeking to eradicate energy poverty through the empowerment of women, was recognized with an award for “Outstanding Humanitarian Technology Transfer Initiative.”

[Pullquote] “No one knows better what is needed in an LDC community than an inventor who lives there,” said Thaddeus Burns, senior counsel for IP and technology policy at GE

Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at info@ip-watch.org.

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