Issues

Innovation insights is a partner for stakeholders working to promote technological advancement.  Below we provide information about issues related to technology innovation and dissemination, drawing on our members’ collective experiences as well as insights from other sources.  Click on each title to view the full list of resources related to that topic. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly updates »

The business of innovation

The technology landscape is constantly evolving, with knowledge flowing in many directions every day.  The private sector accounts for an estimated two-thirds of global R&D spend, and commercial channels are central to technology diffusion.  Below we post resources about trends in innovation across sectors, emerging technology solutions, business models and their evolution, challenges faced by innovators, and other factors that affect the development and commercialization of new solutions.

  • The Geneva Impact Hub has launched a new program to support entrepreneurs to leverage Big Data sets from the United Nations to develop innovative solutions for the SDGs. The program - "Big Data: Techpreneurs for Good" - will make hundreds of data sets from global humanitarian and international development organizations available to private sector actors with the skills, creativity, and business potential to use the data to develop new solutions to pressing public policy challenges. 

     
     
  • This article in Management Decision magazine, by Professors Paola Belingheri and Maria Isabella Leone, reviews licensing practices by startups. The authors consider in particular the use of in-licensing by startups to secure know-how at the start of their activities, looking also at how in-licensed knowledge and technologies are integrated into their internal innovation and strategic IP management processes. 

  • In this article for the Business Times in Singapore, Claire Huang reports the launch of the "Makara Innovation Fund" (MIF) in Singapore. This is a new S$ 1b fund aimed at supporting promising small and medium-sized domestic companies with defensible IP, strong managerial talent and pan-Asian growth potential. The Fund is the result of a partnership between IP ValueLab (the enterprise-engagement arm of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore) and the Singaporean private equity firm Makara Capital. Focal areas for the Fund will include: urban solutions including logistics and security, Fintech, alternative energy, tech such as AI and cyber-security, and healthcare. Launch of this Fund is consistent with analysis by Singapore's Committee on the Future Economy, which identified innovation, commercialization of breakthroughs, and IP as key drivers of Singapore's economic growth.

     

  • PATH, the Gates Foundation, and Biovac have announced a new partnership to develop a Group B Streptococcus vaccine specifically designed to protect mothers and babies in sub-Saharan countries where the disease is most prevalent. No licensed vaccines currently exist to protect against GBS infection. A GBS vaccine designed specifically for low-resource countries could provide a chance for all babies to get a healthy start in life. It could be given to pregnant mothers who would then pass on the protective antibodies to their babies, ensuring protection at birth and during the first critical months of life from GBS infection, which can kill and disable infected babies. As a result of this project, Biovac, which is a public-private partnership based in Cape Town, will be one of only three companies in the world and the only developing-country vaccine manufacturer to develop a novel conjugate vaccine against GBS. Inventprise, a Seattle-area biotech startup with experience in conjugate vaccine development, will provide initial technical support in order to ensure Biovac is well-positioned to manufacture a vaccine that targets sub-Saharan Africa and potentially other low-income regions of the world.

  • This article, by Fred Lambert of Electrek, presents Qualcomm's new technology solution for charging electric vehicles while they are driving on a road. The solution is called the "Qualcomm Halo" wireless electric vehicle charging technology (WEVC). It was recently tested on a special 100km-long track in France, with partners VEDECOM and Renault, and tests will be ongoing. The wireless system is capable of charging an electric vehicle dynamically at up to 20 kilowatts at highway speeds. In the test, Qualcomm Technologies demonstrated simultaneous charging, in which two vehicles on the same track charged dynamically at the same time, while also showing that the vehicles could charge while driving in either direction and in reverse (similar to real-world conditions). The author notes that while in the short term dynamic charging is not expected to be a key feature of the automobile industry's electric charging infrastructure, in the long-term it could be used on parts of highways to increase the on-road time of vehicles. 

  • DNDi is a non-profit R&D organization, founded in Geneva in 2003, that works with partners to develop new treatments for neglected diseases. Here is a link to the organization's pragmatic IP Policy, which may be of interest to those following discussions of IP, health innovation, and access to health technologies. DNDi is home to GARDP (the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership), a joint WHO/DNDi initiative launched in 2016 that is focused on the development of new antibiotics for treating sepsis and STIs such as gonorrhoea. An important part of the work of DNDi, and of GARDP, is to ensure the broadest possible access to any products developed; this requires active engagement across the entire innovation value chain, including manufacture and distribution. 

  • This paper by S. Markan and Y. Verma, from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, provides insights into innovation, patent filings, and business interests (both foreign and indigenous) in the Indian medical device sector. As it considers total filings in India, the analysis sheds light on the relative competitive positions of domestic and foreign innovators in the Indian medical device market. Over the past ten years, a rising number of patent filings in India was observed by the authors, who consider this a positive indicator of increasing IP awareness in the country. They attribute growing use of patents by domestic players, in part, to government programs to support promising health technology entrepreneurs. The authors conclude that there is "an immense potential and opportunity for the medical device sector to innovate across the value chain, to serve Indian and foreign consumers, and unlock the value of the Indian medical device market".

     

  • The Global Good Fund and GE have signed a licensing agreement with the diagnostics technology company Access Bio to manufacture and distribute innovative diagnostic technologies for asymptomatic malaria. The agreement covers rapid diagnostic tests, along with serology tests that assess past exposure of a population to malaria. These technologies for malaria detection were co-developed by a team of scientists and engineers at GE’s Global Research Center and Global Good. GE Ventures, a GE entity dedicated to accelerating innovation and growth with partners, drove the commercialization model for the technology and the licensing agreement between GE, Global Good and Access Bio. The collaboration is expected to help global health workers to more rapidly identify asymptomatic malaria in low-resource regions around the world. Identifying these low-level infections is considered critical to directing efforts towards malaria elimination. Global Good is an initiative of Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates.

  • This short piece by Nick Rousseau of the organization Unconventional Connections, posted on the Global Innovation Index website, describes the challenges for SMEs of partnering to innovate and scale, and presents ideas for successfully managing such challenges. Suggestions include putting in place clear and agreed IP sharing agreements, being open on both sides about objectives of the collaboration, and working to build and maintain trust over time despite potential cultural differences. Dr Rousseau explores these and other approaches in more detail, noting that they are discussed further in the 2015 WEF report "Transforming Business, Driving Growth" which is cited in Chapter 8 of the 2017 Global Innovation Index. 

     

  • This article by Shai Jalfin for IP Watchdog discusses IP management in relation to blockchain, the technology underlying bitcoin that provides a secure public ledger of digital financial transactions.  Mr Jalfin reviews the state of patenting in relation to blockchain, which at this time is concentrated around security measures like encryption, and the likely co-existence of open source and proprietary approaches as the technology evolves, among other issues. 

Innovation policies and ecosystems

Policy-makers are faced with the task of translating a wealth of information about innovation, trade, global supply chains, trends in technology, and other factors into laws and regulations. Below we provide business perspectives on what governments can do to support entrepreneurship, attract foreign technology partners, facilitate technology deployment and the diffusion of know-how, and reinforce domestic innovative capacity.


  • The South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has released the "Draft IP Policy of the Republic of South Africa" (Phase 1). The South African IP Policy has been developed over several years, in consultation with a range of stakeholders and government agencies. It will be implemented in phases, with the first phase focused on select issues notably IP and public health and engagement in global IP policy forums. The IP Policy is expected to be published soon in the South African Government Gazette, at which point comments can be submitted within 60 days of publication.

  • The WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA) commits participants to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of IT products with an annual value of approximately USD 1.7 trillion. To mark the twentieth anniversary of the Agreement, the WTO has just released a new report about the ITA. The publication reviews how the ITA has evolved since it was agreed in 1996, discussing in particular its recent expansion involving new commitments by participants to eliminate tariffs on 201 products valued at over $1.3 trillion per year. 

  • In this article for Americas Quarterly, Danielle Renwick reviews the low numbers of female participation in tech endeavors in Brazil. Ms. Renwick reports that while women account for 60 per cent of university students in Brazil, just 15 per cent of computer science students are female. She presents stereotypes and attitudes in Brazil - similar to those elsewhere, including Silicon Valley - that can hold women (especially women of color) back in relation to STEM studies and employment. The article reviews the range of public and private initiatives - including education centers, advocacy campaigns, and innovation challenges with cash prizes to support further development of promising ideas - that are aimed at expanding female participation in the tech sector, particularly in tech entrepreneurship. 

  • The EU IP Office (EUIPO) has updated its 2013 survey about European attitudes towards intellectual property. The findings of the EUIPO's extensive survey reveal that 97 per cent of Europeans believe that IP should be respected, and that inventors, creators, and performing artists need to be adequately remunerated for their work. The full report, entitled “European Citizens and Intellectual Property: Perception, Awareness and Behavior”, is based on over 26,000 interviews of people across all 28 EU member States about their perceptions of IP.

     

     

  • In this article L. Scott Burwell and Amanda Lutz explain why the denial of injunctive relief by US courts is not akin to the issuance of compulsory licenses (CL).  The authors note that while, post-eBay, injunctive relief against infringers is no longer a virtual certainty, the courts continue to regularly award injunctive relief to patentees practicing their invention against direct, active competitors.  The authors enumerate the distinctions between courts' denial of injunctive relief under certain circumstances, on the one hand, and government decisions to intervene to alter market dynamics by issuing CL, on the other hand.  They also review forms of government use other than CL that are available in the US, noting that some have never been used and all are constrained to use in narrow circumstances.  The authors examine the courts' assessments of the public interest, including the perceived public interest in IP protection. 

  • Following its twentieth meeting, in May 2017 in Geneva, the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (a subsidiary body of ECOSOC) has affirmed the critical contribution of science, technology and innovation to development and improvements in human welfare. The Commission called for increased investments in these areas, along with redoubled efforts to build scientific and technical capacity in developing countries. The members of the Commission underscored in particular the transformative impact of ICTs and the need to create enabling conditions for e-commerce. And they noted the importance of collaboration among different types of stakeholders - including firms - in ensuring that technological advancement contributes to sustainable development. Private sector investments in R&D and commercial channels for technology diffusion are critical to not only ensuring that technology solutions exist and can be deployed where needed, but also to building local absorptive capacity. 

  • In 2009 WIPO membership requested that the organization establish platforms to enhance access to technical information for innovators in developing countries. Three years later, WIPO began establishing Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISC) in order to help such innovators to more effectively access and use technical information, manage their IP rights, and exploit their innovative potential. Today there are 519 TISC worldwide. The TISC network provides opportunities for innovators to share experiences and also to engage with IP experts online, via "Ask the Experts" chats; ideally, the transcripts of these discussions will eventually be posted online so that the general public can benefit. Recently WIPO published information about the achievements of the TISC program in a TISC Annual Report that covers activities since 2009, with special emphasis on achievements during 2016. The TISC program will soon expand to India, where the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) have signed an agreement to establish Technology and Innovation Support Centres (TISC) in India

  • To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), the WTO has organized an ITA Symposium in Geneva featuring speakers, panel discussions, and presentation of new research inluding a new paper from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C. that describes the benefits that would accrue to six develpoing countries were they to join the ITA. Building on an earlier (2012) ITIF paper on the same topic, the 2017 ITIF paper is written by Dr. Stephen Ezell and Dr.  Wu. The authors argue  that tariff liberalization under the ITA would spur increased use of ICT goods, which in turn would generate important productivity and economic growth while deepening enterprises’ participation in global value chains. Their analysis looks in particular at the impact of joining ITA (and ITA2) on Argentina, Cambodia, Chile, Kenya, Pakistan, and South Africa. Dr. Ezell and Dr. Wu conclude that joining these agreements would boost economic growth for each of these countries, and that tax revenues from new economic growth following accession would largely offset income loss from tariff elimination.

  • WIPO has released the strategic plan for the next five years for WIPO Re:Search, an initiative launched in 2011 to accelerate the development of diagnostics and treatments for neglected diseases, along with TB and malaria. WIPO Re:Search, which is implemented in partnership with BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) in the United States, promotes innovation collaborations, knowledge and IP exchange, and capacity-building for researchers in developing countries. The new plan builds on earlier successes, for instance in relation to scientist training, while introducing a more targeted approach to building partnerships, focused on priority disease areas and targeted at efforts most likely to result in the development of new offerings. It also proposes new activities, such as the provision of support to improve IP management by research institutions in developing countries.

  • Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decision in the case of Sandoz v. Amgen, relating to certain aspects of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, IP Watchdog has posted a series of reactions to the ruling. The posting first summarizes the outcome of the case then provides insights from experts in the industry as to its implications. 

Technology diffusion: cases

Innovation Insights is committed to policy-making that reflects long-term considerations and that is rooted in evidence and experience. Important lessons can be gleaned from the many transactions and technology activities taking place every day around the world. Case studies can reveal key factors that lead to successful innovation and technology deployment, and can provide necessary context for policy and business choices.


  • Qualcomm Wireless Reach recently showcased, with partners, the results of the Soochnapreneur program in India. In India, approximately 70 per cent of the nation’s 1.3 billion people live in rural areas. Largely due to poverty and illiteracy, many of these citizens are unaware of the government entitlements that exist to help them, in part because they do not have access to the Internet in order to obtain information about these programs. Soochnapreneur is a Wireless Reach inititiative, launched in 2016, that trains rural youth on the use of Qualcomm technology so they can provide their communities with information about, and access to, more than 600 government entitlements available in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Odisha. "Soochna" means "information" in Hindi; the trainees in the program are called "Soochnapreneurs". Over the last year, 100 Soochnapreneurs from the above five Indian states have been recruited and trained, enabling them to deliver fee-based services to over 7,000 villagers. Participants are currently earning a monthly average income of Rs. 1600 (roughly US $25). Wireless Reach and partner Digital Empowerment Foundation plan to add 100 additional participants - all women - to the program this year, and to work with government departments to add additional services. The Soochnapreneur program has been featured in MINT, a leading English business daily in India.

     

     

     

  • Sarah Derouin of Stanford News reports that Stanford University engineer Zhenan Bao and her team have developed a semiconductor that is as flexible as skin and easily degradable. She notes that this innovation could have diverse medical and environmental applications - without adding to the mounting pile of global electronic waste. “In my group, we have been trying to mimic the function of human skin to think about how to develop future electronic devices,” Bao said, in reference to skin's properties of being stretchable, self-healable and also biodegradable – an attractive list of characteristics for electronics. Having achieved the first two qualities, the team tackled the third and developed an electronic device that can easily degrade just by adding a weak acid like vinegar. The results of their work - which produced the first example of a semiconductor polymer that can decompose - were published in early May 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was funded by the Air Force Office for Scientific Research, BASF, Marie Curie Cofund, Beatriu de Pinós fellowship, and the Kodak Graduate Fellowship. 

  • Cary Chaplin, David Bell and Celina Shocken, in an article posted on IEEE Spectrum, present a promising new cervical cancer screening campaign in Africa, by Global Good in partnership with MobileODT and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, that relies on AI and visual images to detect cervical cancer. The AI system determines whether signs of cancer are present based on photos taken using the "EVA Scope" (Enhanced Visual Assessment Scope), which is a clip-on attachment for a smartphone. This turns the smartphone into a device similar to a colposcope, the tool gynecologists use to view a magnified image of a woman’s cervix. With an associated phone app, the screeners can analyze the image, show it to the patient, and store the data in the cloud. The authors detail the development of the analytic tool that is used in the system, describing in detail the underlying technology (Convolutional Neural Networks, or CNN) and how the AI system must be trained to recognize signs of cancer - a fascinating story. The system, which could potentially be adapted to perform other types of health screening in the field, is being launched in rural areas in Kenya, and additional trials will begin in Ethiopia during 2017. 

  • The first 2MW of a 5MW solar PV plant that will provide power to the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan (which houses 20,000 Syrian refugees) has been switched on by UNHCR. This €8.75 million plant was funded by the IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign. The solar farm will provide energy to 5,000 shelters in the camp, in addition to providing employement and skills to residents at the camp, 50 of whom have been trained and are working with Jordanian company Mustakbal to build and maintain the farm.  plant will generate important cost savings for UNHCR - as much as USD 1.5m per year initially - while allowing the organization to provide electricity free of charge to camp residents. Once the solar plant is running at full capacity, it is expected to not only cover all of the camp's energy needs, but also to contribute to the host country's energy needs by sending unused electricity to the Jordanian grid, to which it is connected. The plant at the Azraq camp illustrates the critical contribution of renewable energy technologies in meeting the world’s rapidly changing electrification needs. 

  • This article from the European Pharmaceutical Review describes the work of a consortium of public and private actors - including the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, Becton Dickinson, Pfizer, USAID, DFID, the Gates Foundation, and UNFPA - to extend access to an all-in-one injectable contraceptive called "Sayana Press" in developing countries. Contraceptives are cost-effective health investments that save lives. If every girl and woman who wanted to use modern contraception could do so, an estimated 170,000 maternal deaths and 1.6 million newborn deaths could be prevented each year. As a result of this initiative, by the end of 2016, 6.4 million units of Sayana Press had been shipped to 20 developing world countries, potentially reaching more than 1.5 million women. Pfizer supplies Sayana Press at a low guaranteed price, and has invested to ensure that manufacturing capacity can meet growing demand. 

     

  • This article, by Jaci Arthur for the Innovate4Health initiative, presents a patented urine malaria test that was developed by Dr. David Sullivan, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor and microbiologist. The test, which offers a rapid, accurate, more convenient, and less expensive alternative to traditional laboratory testing, is the first point of care diagnosic test for malaria that does not require the use of trained personnel or a blood sample. Expeditious diagnosis of malaria can result in faster treatment and lower mortality rates. Fyodor Biotechnologies, a US company established in 2008 by Nigerian biotechnologist Eddy Agbo, was granted an exclusive worldwide license from Johns Hopkins University to research, develop, and commercialize the urine malaria test. The test is currently in clinical validation, after which Dr Agbo expects it will be commercialized starting in Nigeria (home to 25 per cent of malaria cases) then extending to other African markets. 

  • An inexpensive generic medicine, tranexamic acid, has been found in a major trial (known as the "World Maternal Antifibrinolytic", or WOMAN, Trial) to reduce maternal bleeding deaths by a third if administered within three hours. The six-year trial involved more than 20,000 women in 21 countries. Tranexamic acid, a blood-clotting medicine invented more than 60 years ago, costs less than $2 a dose and does not require refrigeration.  The trial was led by doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and paid for by the Wellcome Trust, Pfizer, Britain’s health department and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Results were published in The Lancet on Wednesday and were reported by the New York Times here

  • The Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) have launched Innovate4Health, a new initiative aimed at raising awareness of the critical role that intellectual property (IP) rights play in spurring the development of innovative solutions to pressing global health challenges. Innovate4Health will generate case studies and other analysis about how IP-driven innovation is helping to address the world’s toughest health challenges. At the launch on April 26, the Innovate4Health website already featured several case studies about healthcare inventions and the IP stories underlying their development. 

  • Qualcomm's Wireless Reach program - with more than 100 projects in nearly fifty countries, on five continents - brings the benefits of wireless technology to underserved communities globally. For instance, the Fisher Friend Mobile Application was developed to help rural fishermen in India, through collaborative work involving Qualcomm, the Government of India, and other partners. This app provides critical information about weather and ocean conditions up to 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from shore, including disaster alerts, potential fishing zones, and current market prices of fish, in order to help fishermen to improve their catch, safetey, and income. The app has been lauded by the National Council of Applied Economic Research of India, which suggested that a similar solution be developed for Indian farmers. Information about other Wireless Reach projects is available online. 

  • This article by Cathy Jewell, published in the April 2017 edition of WIPO Magazine, describes the evolution of a successful IP management and technology transfer program at Peru's Catholic Pontifical University. Starting in 2004, the CPU developed a framework to support researchers to protect and manage promising research outputs, and to advance the commercialization of them. According to its Director, the CPU IP Office is now working with the government to strengthen the university's ties to the business community and to enhance the capacity of local entrepreneurs. The piece presents a case study about the innovative solution to fight air pollution that was developed by CPU spinoff qAIRa.