The sustained growth of India’s IT sector is a further example of what can be achieved through strategic use of IP

The Indian government has declared a decade of innovation, emphasising the importance of innovation to India’s well-being. I share the confidence that investment in India’s enormous human capital, coupled with a focus on innovation, will bear healthy dividends for many years to come.

The current contraction in global economic growth offers an opportunity to re-assess what will foster economic resurgence. The importance of innovation and technological progress as a means of creating jobs and boosting growth and competitiveness is well established. While the annual global expenditure devoted to research and development now exceeds $1 trillion, knowledge creation alone is not a sufficient stimulus for growth. It is also necessary to create the conditions for its commercialisation.

Intellectual property (IP) is one of the indispensable mechanisms for translating knowledge into commercial assets. IP rights create a secure environment for investment in innovation and provide a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets. An investment in knowledge creation, and the maintenance of a robust IP system that strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of innovators, investors and society, should feature prominently in any strategy to ensure sustainable economic growth.

Indian commentators are familiar with the need to ensure that the IP system balances the interests of all IP stakeholders — including developing countries — and that it continues to serve the public good. Indeed, this is a constant challenge for WIPO and its constituents. The international IP system must be able to deliver tangible benefit to all countries, irrespective of where they fall on the spectrum of technological or economic development. The reality for a global organisation like WIPO, with 184 Member States, is that it must be fully able to serve all of them.

It is important to bear in mind that the IP system is a mechanism for stimulating and disseminating innovation and creativity, for countering unfair competition and for contributing to market order. The debates and discussions at WIPO are ultimately about how the system can best serve these underlying principles, from which all countries stand to benefit.

A member of WIPO since May 1975, India continues to make an important and positive contribution to the ongoing process of exploring how to further improve different aspects of the international IP system and to influence the future evolution of the IP landscape.

India is no stranger to the economic advantages of IP. Consider Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry, producing over 1,000 feature films a year. Nor, alas, is it a stranger to the enormous challenges confronting the entertainment business under threat from piracy and a growing lack of respect for their IP rights. A recent study estimated that the Indian entertainment industry loses some 820,000 jobs and around $4 billion each year to piracy. Imagine what this dynamic, high-growth industry which already generates over $11 billion annually could further achieve if piracy rates were checked. India is not alone in confronting the global challenge of piracy and collectively, we need to reflect on the fundamentally important question of how we are to finance culture in the future — the future evolution of the copyright system, is of course central to this debate.

The sustained growth of India’s IT sector is a further example of what can be achieved through strategic use of IP. The country’s high-tech prowess is evident in a growing range of fields such as information technology, nuclear power, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Companies such as Infosys Technologies, Wipro, and Ranbaxy have become household names around the globe.

The country’s wealth of ancient traditional knowledge and its rich biodiversity are additional platforms on which to build economic strength. India is in the forefront in developing practical solutions to defend against the misappropriation of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and traditional cultural expressions. The “Indian Systems of Medicine” initiative, the Health Heritage Database and the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) initiative — which alone already contains some 36,000 formulations in patent search compatible formats in various languages — all attest to India’s leadership in these areas.

India also plays a key role in WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The IGC, which received its strongest mandate yet from Member States last month, is about to embark on international negotiations to ensure the effective protection of Traditional Knowledge (TK), Genetic Resources (GR) and Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE) through the development of an international legal instrument. The historic decision is significant in that it recognises TK, GRs and TCE as part of a more universal knowledge base upon which the IP system rests, and could potentially lead to a major normative shift in the IP system.

The return of many Indians who have studied and worked abroad has further energised the country’s technological research capabilities, its entrepreneurial drive, and the ability to finance new business ventures. Ten years ago, Rajeev Samant, a Stanford University graduate and former finance manager at Oracle, recognised that the climate in the Nasik region north of Mumbai is similar to that of California’s Napa Valley. Today, India is host to a burgeoning wine industry.

There are innumerable stories that illustrate the potential of India’s rich endowment of inventive and entrepreneurial talent. This, together with a large domestic market that can support substantial investments in research and development, and a renewed commitment to innovation, means the prospects are good for one of the world’s fastest growing economies. It is good news as well for a global economy in search of new sources of growth. Continued investment and a strong commitment to strengthening the country’s IP capacity will not only reinforce India’s position as an emerging economic power, it will help it unleash the full potential of its people. — Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi

( Francis Gurry is Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.)

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