Expectations: New year, innovation and the law

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Much is happening in the area of innovation, with significant investment, especially in countries capitalising on their growth potential. Innovation is regarded as a key driver to improvements in productivity and growth. In Mauritius, it is often cited by our public and private sector actors as key to economic development.

But for innovation to be effective, the appropriate conditions should exist. Not only do we need the grey matter and the creative minds to be there, but these should evolve in a conducive environment, including a legal framework that would provide certain safeguards and protect the rights of developers and inventors. The industrial property rights, the patent legislation, among others must be sufficiently comprehensive to provide that protection.

Promoting creativity

Innovation is about development, be it economic, social, cultural or political. All fields of human activity see their existence and their evolution influenced by it. The whole idea behind protection is to promote creativity by recognising the legal ownership of the intellectual inputs of individuals and rewarding them for their efforts in providing society with new or improved technologies for better living.

Innovation is key to all stages of the life cycle of technologies, from invention to their availability for use. Protection through the relevant legal and regulatory frameworks will provide the necessary environment for not only product innovation, but also process innovation, organisational innovation and marketing innovation.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are traditionally subdivided into industrial rights and copyright. The latter is much more popular in Mauritius where creative works, specially music, raise frequent issues regarding the rights of authors, their due recognition and the ills of piracy. The copyright limb of intellectual property is fairly well covered. The Copyright Act itself has evolved from the old Copyright Ordinance of 1956 which we inherited from the British. Although copyright and patent have different applications, yet the spirit of protection of a creation of the mind is embodied in these concepts.

Context

Innovation, as referred to in the official planning documents of government, namely, the strategic plan 2017-2018-2019-2020 and Vision 2030 quoted therein focuses essentially on economic development. The relevant proclaimed legislation for patents are: The Patents, Industrial Designs And Trademarks Act 2002 and the Protection Against Unfair Practices (Industrial Property Rights) Act 2002. Mauritius is also signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, and the Berne Convention.

In Mauritius, given the context, the legal framework should also address the open innovation sector which includes the management of non-pecuniary exchange of information, and address its relationship with intellectual property rights (IPRs), particularly patent rights. The place research and development activities undertaken by private or public institutions as well as the acquisition of external knowledge are also relevant for consideration in the Mauritian context.

Limitations

While patent laws provide a good incentive to innovation, it must be recalled that they are applicable only nationally. And that for protection to enjoy an international coverage, it is necessary for other formalities to be fulfilled under the Patent Cooperation Treaty implemented under the aegis the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

IPR protection (including patents) has become an important aspect of trade and commercial success. Under the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the World Trade Organisation has set levels of protection that countries should give to IPR. The aim is to ensure that innovation and transfer of technology are carried out so as to reward those who supply the technology as well as those who ultimately benefit from it.

Caution

As indicated above, legal protection of developers and inventors is but one of the multiple aspects of innovation that need be addressed for it to be effective in bringing economic growth. The authorities should be aware that the number of patents filed or awarded is not necessarily an indication of economic or commercial achievement. A case in point relates to equipment for producing renewable energy, where WIPO received 77,813 patents applications at its different patent offices. 55% of these applications were filed in Japan, followed by the US and Europe. However, the predominant place occupied by Japan was not reflected in the global market share of equipment supply for renewable energy.

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