Notes on developing a strategic Intellectual Property Plan for Guyana.
By Dr. Abiola Inniss Ph.D. LLM
Between the years 2013-2017, I conducted a study which investigated how intellectual property law and public policies in the four largest Caricom economies (Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaica) affected the choices made by firms about innovation and technology. The results were validated by a team of peer reviewers. The findings were interesting and even startling, because they revealed that innovation in firms of medium and large size across these sample countries, except one, were reluctant to invest in innovations and accompanying technologies, even where there was more focus on intellectual property rights (IPRs), laws and policies. In the case of Guyana, there are no visible policies on IPRs, the laws are outdated, and there is minimal enforcement, nevertheless it is in this country that the highest levels of endogenous innovations exist. There can be no sound explanation for this occurrence in Guyana until further study is done which investigates its phenomenological underpinnings. In the meantime, the need for development of a practical approach to Intellectual Property Rights policies and laws is ever present and becoming more urgent.
Recent oil finds have created high expectations and hopes for the country, but the exploitation and distribution of the gains will be lopsided if attention is not paid to the development of other industries and in particular, the development of innovation and technology. In this way, many more people will benefit from industries which offshoot from the developments in oil. In today’s world this goes hand in hand with the development, of patents, copyright, industrial design and trademarks among other protections, making it imperative for the government of Guyana to develop and implement a strategic intellectual property plan for the country.
There are several ways of approaching this undertaking, but a review of best practices garnered from the examination of strategies which have been successful in developing countries, suggests that there are five key stages which can be adapted to suit the needs of the community in which they will be implemented.
The first of these is the creation strategy by which is meant the development of policies and plans that encourage creativity within the society. A government may provide real incentives that encourage individuals, firms and institutions of higher learning to develop new products, processes and even services that are needed in the communities., all with the view to the promotion of innovation and technology. This also means developing partnerships with other countries for the creation of research institutes, collaborative agreements with researchers from other universities, and the exchange of information among higher education institutes around the world. It involves investing in technical and physical resources in a structured, deliberate manner and it must be part of the economic plan for the country. This is a feasible approach that should be taken by the Government of Guyana if is serious about developing innovation and technology. While all sectors of the society must be encouraged to think about and participate in creating innovation, it cannot be considered a reasonable plan for making gains in science and technology on a serious level, to simply give some money to a few secondary schools and tell them to come up with innovations that will benefit the society. A carefully considered, holistic approach in which highly trained scientists, engineers, and others with advanced skills sets are recruited, is the answer to creating much needed advancements in science, technology and innovation.
Next comes the development of the legal and regulatory framework which will ensure that the hard work of those who engage in research and the development of technologies can be protected from unrestricted use by others for profit. In the case of Guyana, this will mean the development of comprehensive legislation which covers all aspects of intellectual property rights and takes into consideration the international conventions and agreements to which it is a signatory, and which requirements it may wish to acknowledge. These requirements in the form of regulations are not self -executory and must be enacted into the laws of the country before they can take effect. Particular reference can be made in this regard to the Trade Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights – TRIPS agreement implemented by the World Trade Organization -WTO to ensure that developing countries meet some minimum standards of intellectual property protections as a requirement for trade arrangements under the WTO. Guyana is a signatory to this agreement but has not met its requirements because there have not been any updated IP laws.
The debate rages to this day as to whether the TRIPs agreement benefits or dispossesses developing countries of the means to develop innovation and technologies because of its restrictions on the use of knowledge, and countries have had varied responses to it. Reciprocal protections of IPRs across countries is however one of the positive aspects of the agreement, though TRIPS is by no means the only way to attain this latitude. In every area of developing intellectual property rights policies, there is need for sound knowledge and expertise. It is not a simple matter of hosting so -called stakeholder meetings with the hope of coming to consensus on the need for IPRs. Such an approach is a waste of time and money, and as has been established from recent experience, leads to no result. The government needs to establish a working commission which comprises people who are scholars and practitioners in intellectual property law and the creation of policy, and who can provide the intellectual and practical resources to craft policies and laws which will create the protections that are needed while balancing the interests of the society.
The exploitation of IPRs is the next consideration which must be made in an implementation strategy. Patents may be bought and sold, as may industrial designs and trade- marks. This is one means by which those types of rights may be exploited and the legal framework must be in place to make this possible. In the case of copyright, creators of content such as artists, musicians, writers and performers are heavily dependent upon the revenues from their creations and face grave difficulty in collecting them because of the lack of any collective rights management agencies in the country. While government should not necessarily take on the management of those rights, it should be instrumental in the formation of such an agency or agencies which will be backed by legislation. Collective Rights management agencies are an essential part of the exploitation of copyrights.
The expansion of human resources is stage four of the implementation plan but can be implemented concurrently with stage two. It includes the training of patent examiners and the creation of a patent office at which submissions and examinations are made. A copyrights and trademarks and industrial designs registry must be established and staff trained in the protocols and administration of those areas of IP. It goes without saying that modern systems include the use of blockchain technology for the registration of copyrights and that technical expertise will have to include trained systems technicians. This list of resources is by no means exhaustive and is intended only to introduce the reader to the scope of intellectual and human resources which are required to create a viable modern and efficient intellectual property system.
The final stage is the actual implementation of the system, this encompasses all of the forgoing and takes place at every level since it occurs simultaneously with the creation of the other four stages. The key role of the government is to resource personnel with the relevant skills sets, and intellectual ability to help manage the process. It is time to engage scholarship and technical resources to develop a comprehensive intellectual property regime. It is time for the government to get serious.