By Howard Okiror
AATF joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Intellectual Property (IP) Day which is marked every year on 26th April. The theme for this year was IP & SMEs: Taking your ideas to market. Launched in the year 2000 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the IP day promotes and protects creative ideas, including music, art, trademarks, writings, and inventions.
In the past, WIPO in collaboration with government agencies, non-government organizations, community groups and individuals has held different events and activities including concerts and other public performances centered around themes to promote the IP Day.
During this year’s World IP Day celebrations, WIPO and its partners across the globe took part in shining light on the critical role of SMEs in the economy and how they can use IP rights to build stronger, more competitive, and resilient businesses to support national economies and improve livelihoods of citizens.
According to statistics provided by the World Bank, it is evident that SMEs are the backbone of national economies. They deliver the goods and services needed every day; they hatch breakthrough innovations and inspiring creations, and they create jobs; some become the world-leading businesses of tomorrow.
It’s important to reiterate that SMEs make up around 90 percent of the world’s businesses, employ around 50 percent of the global workforce and generate up to 40 percent of national income in many emerging economies, more if you count informal businesses.
Most SMEs are unaware that they hold IP or that it has value. This means many are missing out on opportunities to improve their revenue. Studies show that when businesses are IP savvy, and when they acquire and manage IP rights, they record significant improvement in their revenue and profits hence this year’s theme.
World IP Day 2021 also highlighted the central role that WIPO and national and regional IP offices around the world play in creating favorable conditions for SMEs to drive innovation and creativity, power economic recovery, and create employment.
Start-ups and SMEs are some of the core building blocks of high-tech clusters, such as Silicon Valley. Technology-intensive SMEs are powerhouses of innovation and essential drivers of economic development in all modern economies. These start-ups and SMEs design, develop and commercialize disruptive high-risk technologies with high payoff potential.
On their pathway to the market, they need to incorporate upfront an IP strategy into their business plans. Presently, the market capitalization of a high-tech start-up or SME is based on its IP portfolio, which is often mostly composed of patents or copyrights.
In the agricultural space, SMEs provide a range of services ranging from transport and logistics to the sale of inputs such as fertilizer and seed to farmers. Their activity is connecting smallholder farmers to commercial markets at an unprecedented rate across African agriculture. The introduction of new and improved plant varieties offers the opportunity to address some of the myriad challenges facing Africa’s food security.
Successful plant breeding requires great skill and knowledge in a process that can take up to 15 years to introduce a new plant variety to the market. Not all new plant varieties are successful, even though the best prospects are selected from thousands of individuals during the breeding process. Sustained and long-term breeding efforts are only worthwhile if there is a chance to be rewarded for the investment made, which is why plant variety protection (PVP) is an important system for plant breeders.
Globally, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) system provides an effective incentive for plant breeding and results in the development of new, improved varieties of benefit for farmers, growers, and consumers.
Nationally, several African countries have been developing legislation for plant variety protection. In Kenya for instance, new plant varieties are regulated by the Seeds and Plant Varieties Act which grants Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) for the person who bred the new plant variety. For a breeder to be granted PBR, the variety must be new, distinct, uniform, stable, and meet other administrative requirements under the Act.
To ensure that these new and improved varieties reach the African farmer, these varieties need to be commercialized to reach the intended farmers to help improve their livelihood.
In summary, it’s important to highlight that every business starts with an idea. Each of the millions of SMEs that operate across the globe every day started with an idea that took shape in someone’s mind and made its way to market. If nurtured and enriched with ingenuity, know-how, and flair an idea becomes an IP asset that can drive business development, economic recovery, and human progress. At a time when the imperative of economic recovery is high SMEs have no option but to embrace IP if growth and sustainability is what they seek.
The writer is a legal officer at AATF.