Go Easy on Stringent Intellectual Property Rights – Research

Nairobi, Wednesday, September 4, 2019: Policy makers in COMESA and developing countries should be cautious when instituting regulations that emphasize stringent Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). According to research findings presented at the ongoing 6th COMESA Annual Research Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, strong IPR may harm research, which leads to innovation in developing countries.

The research titled ‘Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Trade in Developing Countries: Evidence from COMESA Countries’ was conducted by Professor Albert Makochekanwa of the Department of Economics in the University of Zimbabwe. It found that countries in the region lacked sufficient motivations to spur innovations.

According to empirical research cited by the researcher, innovation activities are mainly driven by the possibility of increased profits and market share; the perceived demand for new products and processes and “technology-push” factors that are related to advancements in technology and science.

The study investigated the role of IPRs protection in innovations using 12 developing countries in COMESA for which data was available covering the period 2012 to 2017. These are Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Arising from the study Prof. Makochekanwa observed that regional countries did not meet the threshold for stringent IPR given their level of development. This is due to low level of technological development, high cost of research and development, and the competitiveness of the economy in the global marketplace.

During discussions, it was noted that developed economies, such as Japan and Germany, used flexible or relaxed IPR when they were developing after the World War and only introduced stringent regulations after attaining higher levels of development.

Reacting to the presentation, COMESA Senior Research Fellow Mr. Benedict Musengele observed:

“Developing economies rely much on imitation of technologies as well as technology transfer for their innovations, economic growth and development, which is hindered by stringent IPR. Most of the innovation in developing countries are by the small and medium enterprises which have no capacity to register and acquire licences for the intellectual property rights but they need to be nurtured to grow and become large enterprises.”

Further, empirical evidence shows that robust economic activities and manufacturing production stimulates innovation while vibrant economic activity implies profitability, thus encouraging innovation activities by firms.

In addition, political stability provides confidence to firms to easily engage in research and development which yields new ideas, products and processes even in the long run without fear of possible expropriation or loss due to potential risks emanating from political challenges.

The findings demonstrated that stronger IPRs protection overall discourages or negatively impact on innovations. In the case of COMESA, this finding provides evidence to the fact that IPR discourages innovation.

Given the level of development across the member states, the researcher recommended that the regional countries and policy makers to consider relaxed, as opposed to stringent IPR regulations in the spirit of encouraging innovation activities and economic development in member countries.

This was one of the 13 research papers being presented at the one-week research forum, under the theme: “Promoting Intra-COMESA Trade through Innovation”, whose implications will be presented to COMESA policy organs and form the basis for policy decision making.

The forum closes on Friday after receiving presentation from innovators in science and technology from COMESA Member States.

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