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.

  • This GE Report presents the importance of - and challenges related to - building local expertise for the maintenance of health technology solutions, so they are less likely to sit unused in a hospital corridor. The article focuses on the experience of Phil Camillocci volunteering for Engineering World Health in Cambodia. 

  • A team of scientists at Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh have succeeded in removing the HIV virus from the DNA in mouse cells using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. The team is the first to demonstrate that HIV-1 replication can be stopped and the virus totally eliminated from infected cells in animals by using this powerful gene editing technology. The study (published in Molecular Therapy) marks a major step forward in the pursuit of a permanent cure for HIV infection. According to one of the scientists involved, the next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, a more suitable animal model, with the eventual goal being a clinical trial in human patients.

  • In this New York Times article Stephanie Strom discusses efforts to use food products like mushrooms, kelp, milk, and tomato peels to create packaging for food in order to replace non-biodegradable materials like plastics. Although food-based packaging can raise certain concerns - for instance, undermining food security if food is diverted to make packaging materials rather than feed people - and can be challenging to develop and use cost-effectively, big and small players continue to pursue R&D in this area. Nestle and Danone have announced efforts to develop wood-based bottles for beverages, and Italian researchers have developed a product made of tomato skins called "Biocopac Plus" that could be used to replace linings containing BPA in canned foods. Ms. Strom notes that the EU, which has funded efforts to develop coatings from whey and potato proteins, estimates that the global market for so-called bioplastics is growing by as much as 30 per cent each year.

  • In this article for WIPO magazine, Corey Salsburg of Novartis provides an inside perspective on the process of developing and deploying new offerings in the pharmaceutical sector. In addition to the notion that most innovation results from an "aha" moment, he addresses current topics in the IP and health discussions including, for instance, whether incremental innovation adds value and thus should be patentable, and the rise of collaboration including with actors from different fields of technology. 

  • The Cooperation and Development Center, or "CoDev", at EPFL in Lausanne is offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Technology Innovation for Sustainable Development. The course presents methodologies and approaches for developing impactful technology solutions that can foster sustainable development and improve lives, in emerging countries in particular. The course focuses on all aspects of the innovative process, from concept to commercialization and deployment. It encourages entrepreneurship and co-design together with relevant stakeholders, including especially the expected users of the solution. The course begins May 1. 

  • In this IAM blog, Jacob Schindler describes the pro-IP position of the leadership of Smartron, a Hyderabad-based startup. The company expects that its IP management activities will give it an edge over its domestic rivals in the IoT and smartphone industries. For instance, Smartron has negotiated a royalty-bearing license with Qualcomm, which will allow Smartron to develop and sell WCDMA, CDMA2000 and 4G/LTE devices, in addition to providing a foundation for technology collaboration among the two firms. Smartron's VP for sales and marketing Amit Boni said of this deal: “We are the only Indian technology company that has a patent licensing deal with Qualcomm ... we are going to access to some of the early technology coming out of Qualcomm. We will get access to the labs and we are setting up some of the stuff”. As for its own filings, Smartron's 50 patents relate mostly to the areas of robotics, AI, and IoT. 

  • As reported by DEMO Africa, earlier this year, IBM launched a $70 million training program aimed at upgrading the digital skills of 25 million youth across Africa over the next five years. Operated out of IBM's offices in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt, the program is part of the company's global initiatives aimed at developing skills for "new collar" jobs (the IBM term for the new kinds of careers that do not necessarily require a four-year college degree but rather skills in areas like data science, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and cloud). The training, which is administered through a free, cloud-based online learning environment, provides programs from basic IT literacy skills to advanced IT skills such as privacy and cyber protection. Based on Watson, the cognitive online learning system adapts and learns, interacting with users in order to tailor coursework to their needs and abilities. 

  • This GE Report describes operations at a GE Healthcare facility in Hino, Japan, that combine "lean manufacturing" principles with digitization in order to reduce waste in the production process and shrink lead time. The Hino plant is where the industrial internet meets "Kaizen", which is the Japanese concept of continuous improvement pioneered by Toyota after World War II that undergirds lean methods for eliminating waste in manufacturing. Digitization enables real-time monitoring of production processes, and incremental improvements over time boost quality and efficiency (including lead time reduction of 65 per cent). Employees are empowered to contribute their own insights and to test potential operational changes. 

  • The Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT), the premier engineering and research institution in Ethiopia, and General Electric have signed an MOU to launch a new collaboration aimed at developing a renewables center of excellence in Ethiopia. As a result of the collaboration - which will integrate develpment agencies, renewables industry companies, and other partners - the AAIT will serve as a practical learning hub for undergraduate and graduate students, and as a reinforcing learning mechanism for faculty. The project derives from a GE program, begun in 2016, to train Ethopian engineers on hydro turbines and generators technology.  

  • As reported by Bloomberg, Shin Sakane, a Japanese inventor with Seven Dreamers Laboratories, is working on commercialization of a robot called the "Laundroid" that washes, dries, de-wrinkles, and folds clothes. This patented solution, which combines technology from Panasonic with technologies developed at Seven Dreamers Labs, is slated to hit the market in spring 2017. Competitors in California are developing similar offerings. A tough challenge in regard to these offerings is development of an efficient robotic folding process - and getting the price point right. 

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.


  • In a paper prepared for the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents, law professors Pamela Andanda of South Africa and Andrew Christie from Australia consider constraints faced by developing countries and least developed countries seeking to enact IP rules that advance domestic policy objectives while also being compliant with international treaty obligations. The authors examine administrative and legal challenges, along with challenges related to lack of technical and manufacturing capacity that cannot be solved by setting aside patent rights. Having determined, based on their review, that "no meaningful empirical studies have been published to date that would allow credible conclusions to be drawn about the impact of constraints to the full use of patent flexibilities on access to affordable and especially essential medicines in developing countries and LDCs", the authors call for more work to be done in this area.

     

     

     
  • A group of public and private organizations has just released the results of the South African National Survey of IP Management and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions, which relates to the years 2008 - 2014. The survey is one instrument the government is using to assess the performance of the South African National Innovation System. Following the 2009 IPR Act, which provided a unified framework for IP management and tech transfer of publicly funded research outcomes, NIPMO and partners continue to work to enhance the effectiveness of TTOs within the network of universities and public research institutes. The ultimate goal is to support the transformation of public research into offerings that improve the lives of South African citizens, while fostering public-private research collaborations and building absorptive capacity.  

  • The US Supreme Court has ruled in the Lexmark case (Impression Products, Inc. vs Lexmark International, Inc.) that the sale of a patented product exhausts all patent rights, domestically as well as internationally. This case is of particular relevance for innovators seeking to use patent laws to manage competition in secondary markets for patented offerings. Here is an overview of the ruling from IP Watchdog. 

  • For the first time, on May 19 - 20, 2017, the health ministers of the G20 countries met, under the G20 leadership of Germany. They agreed the Berlin Declaration, entitled "Together Today for a Healthy Tomorrow", which underscores the need for concerted action to address pressing global health challenges such as epidemics and anti-microbial resistance (AMR). The Declaration underlines the ministers' commitment to strengthening health systems, ensuring global support for WHO, fostering R&D preparedness including through new partnerships and approaches, improving health outcomes in difficult contexts such as conflicts, and providing leadership in ensuring the global health community can respond quickly and effectively to health crises.

  • The University of Minnesota Law School and the University of Geneva Law School will jointly sponsor a conference on June 15 in honor of Pedro Roffe, a longstanding and distinguished member of the Geneva IP and development community. IP Watch has posted a "save the date" announcement for this event, which will take place at the University of Geneva.   

  • Farhad Manjoo has published an interesting piece in the New York Times about the impact of public versus private research spending, against a backdrop of likely cuts in US Government spending on scientific research under the current administration. He observes that, in the US context, it is technology giants rather than the Government that are investing in the research that will drive advancement in critical areas, notably AI. Unless the government vastly increases its own research investments in such technologies, he warns that it will be up to the private companies to decide how to deploy them. He notes that companies like Google are spending billions to develop AI solutions and to apply them across the economy to improve delivery of key services like transport and public health. And, according to annual reports, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are on track to collectively spend more than USD 60b this year on R&D, compared to the 2015 US Government research budget of USD 67b (for all nondefense-related scientific research). 

  • This article by Steve Davis, the CEO of PATH, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, considers China's role in global development and particularly the country's role in improving global health outcomes including through innovation. Drawing attention to PATH's positive experience working with Chinese partners to speed deployment of a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, he argues that engagement with Chinese companies, scientists, and ministries can offer vitally important opportunities to make a difference in the health of people not only in China, but around the world. In order to leverage such potental opportunities to improve health outcomes, he suggests that global health leaders: move beyond overly simplistic narratives that are based on false or dated notions about China’s role in the world; recognize that China’s approach to global health and development is fundamentally different from that of other global actors such as the United States and Europe; identify areas where interests in global health and innovation are aligned, for instance the shared priority of developing new approaches to address NCDs; emphasize the trend in China towards better quality, to which the government is committed; and invite China to the table each time global leaders gather to discuss global health. 

  • The George Mason Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) has published a new policy brief called "Open Access Mandates and the Seductively False Promise of Free", by Bhamati Viswanathan and Adam Mossoff. The authors note that federal agencies in the United States are increasingly mandating or proposing free public access for copyrighted works that report on federally-funded research ("open access mandates"), thus compelling scholars and reseachers to make their writings freely available to the world. They are critical of open access mandates and the justifications underlying them. Because federal agencies, such as the Department of Education and National Institutes of Health, disburse billions annually in research grants, the authors point out that open access mandates affect millions of published articles and other materials including testing materials and even software source code. 

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    In this paper, Professor Jonathan Barnett of USC critiques key arguments underpinning recent legislative and other initiatives aimed at weakening patent rights in the United States. The arguments he addresses are: (1) IP rights raise entry barriers and increase costs to users, (2) innovation often occurs without any IP rights, and (3) IP rights work predominantly in favor of large firms. Using theoretical argument and empirical evidence, Professor Barnett explains why each of these propositions is unlikely to be true in a significant set of commercially relevant circumstances. In contrast, he argues that IP rights can reduce entry barriers and users’ costs relative to the organizational and transactional structures that markets would adopt without those rights. He notes the importance, in particular, of effective IP rights for unintegrated, R&D-intensive (and, often, smaller) firms that would have difficulty funding the innovation and commercialization process without IP rights. 

     

  • With enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act in 2016, the United States modernized its trade secrets protection regime. Notably, the DTSA created a private civil cause of action for trade secrets misappropriation at the federal level. In the run-up to passage of the DTSA, Professors David S. Levine and Sharon K. Sandeen wrote about concerns that the DTSA would give rise to “trade secret trolls” whose activities could undermine the structures of trade secrets laws and cause problems and costs for innovators. James Pooley, among other commentators, pushed back on this notion. Mr Pooley published an article asserting there was absolutely no risk of unleashing “trade secret trolls”, at the same time rebutting other arguments tabled by a group of academics opposing the DTSA (related to seizure provisions, injunctive relief, and employee mobility). As the DTSA is now in place, in the US context these articles have been overtaken by events; nonetheless the arguments therein may be relevant to future trade secrets initiatives elsewhere in the world and thus may be interesting to revisit.  

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.


  • This article by Amy Weiss-Meyer in the Atlantic Monthly presents a range of new technologies being developed specifically to help refugees, including tools for family reunification, online platforms with real-time information about conditions in different locations, new approaches to providing internet access, and innovative drone deployment. 

  • This article in the WSJ by Daniel Akst explains how genetically engineered bacteria and a laser-based scanner can be used to detect land mines. Land mines usually contain TNT, which gives off a degradation product called DNT over time. Israeli scientists have developed a version of E. coli that reacts to DNT in soil by producing a green, fluorescent protein which can be excited by a laser (but which cannot be seen with the naked eye). This solution, developed by scientists at Israel's Hebrew University, builds on earlier work by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in TN in the late 1990s. It is currently being tested. If validated it would be an improvement over current land mine detection methods which, in addition to being slow, often require putting people or animals dangerously close to buried explosives. 

  • This article features a new software solution designed by civil engineer Aline Okello to identify rainwater harvesting solutions and to improve understanding about water management in her country of Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa. For the past year, Okello has been testing her technology among rural communities and farmers in South Africa, primarily around Mbonambi, KwaZulu-Natal. Okello, who is a fellow at the UNESCO Institute for Water Education, has been shortlisted for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize 2017.

  • Girl Effect and Gavi joined forces to fight cervical cancer in the developing world. This USD 10 million partnership aims to address the negative social norms that prevent girls from accessing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which provides protection against cervical cancer in 70% of cases. As part of the commitment, Gavi will support countries in purchasing HPV vaccines, and Girl Effect will use its networks to promote the vaccine to girls and their families. Cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 266,000 women each year, 85% of whom live in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America have the highest incidences.

  • This New York Times article briefly presents new research by Michael Brecht and Shimpei Ishiyama of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Germany. The researchers identified the parts of the brain that are activated when rats are tickled, and evaluated the impact of moods on reactions to tickling. Read the article then watch the video. 

  • Philips and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have teamed up to develop scalable digital transformation plans to improve the collection of quality immunisation data in primary and community healthcare. The key goal of the partnership will be to leverage innovative health IT solutions alongside Gavi’s extensive experience in scaling up immunisation programmes to identify children who are missing out on vaccines. According to Gavi, 580 million children in the developing world have been given basic vaccines with the organisation’s support since 2000. However, that leaves 19 million children not fully immunised with basic vaccines, and these children can be the hardest to reach. Uganda will be the pilot country for this initiative, the Guardian reports

  • GE Healthcare and PnuVax, a vaccine and biopharmaceutical company, announced that they have reached agreement for PnuVax to acquire GE Healthcare’s intellectual property (IP) relating to an inactivated yellow fever vaccine. Under the terms of the agreement, PnuVax will purchase a GE Healthcare FlexFactory biomanufacturing platform, then the two companies plan to collaborate to optimize the manufacturing process for the new vaccine. The companies expect that the start-to-finish biomanufacturing platform - FlexFactory - will allow localization of yellow fever vaccine production in endemic areas, in addition to providing a platform for manufacturing other similar vaccines to respond to emerging pathogens in the future.

  • Together with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Colombia to the United Nations in Geneva, Innovation Insights will host a roundtable discussion on June 1 about best practices in connecting research institutes with local industry. At this event, speakers will discuss several case studies from Colombia including that of the Medellin-based research institute ICIPC, which has engaged in successful collaboration and technology transfer with the private sector throughout Colombia. Speakers will identify the policies, promoted by the national entity COLCIENCIAS, that have enabled such collaboration to thrive, and they will discuss the role of IP management as well. All are invited to attend.

  • In this piece, Juan Guardado of the Grameen Foundation argues that despite Africa’s leading role in the mobile revolution, smallholder farmers have yet to fundamentally benefit from digital technologies that could bring them unprecedented access to financial services, agricultural information, and market opportunities. The author explains that while access to finance is crucial for smallholder farmers, such services are difficult and expensive to obtain and are rarely designed to meet farmers' needs. Digital solutions are an important alternative and can reach people in remote areas, delivering valuable information and services, and allowing two-way communication. A project like Airtel Weza, a secure and transparent mobile wallet for savings groups in Uganda, is one example of how digital innovation can benefit and empower smallholder farmers.

  • On the margins of CDIP/17, Innovation Insights and IFPMA hosted a side event featuring Kerry Faul, Head of National IP Management Office (NIPMO) in South Africa, Mustafa Çakιr, Manager of IP Rights and Licensing at Ege University in Turkey, and Gabriel Clerc, Head of EPFL Technology Transfer Office (EPFL-TTO) in Switzerland (click on names to view presentations). The speakers explained how technology transfer, supported by IP management, helps to ensure that research outcomes are translated into solutions that can improve people’s lives. All highlighted in their presentations that IP rights are tools that can be used to achieve a range of public policy objectives, including support for SMEs which are significant engines of job creation. Moreover, the speakers noted that collaboration is an important channel for advancing innovation, enabling different partners to bring their complementary resources, skills, experience, and insights to advance technology.