Ethiopia: Patent Right Encourages Innovation

Besides the legal aspect, patent rights have an important role in boosting productivity by giving confidence for innovators and hence encouraging innovation. Patent rights give confidence to innovators to pursue new ones and come up with product and service that benefits society.

According to the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO), protecting the patent rights of innovators has a bigger impact in promoting innovation not only at national but also at the international level.

Recently, EIPO organized an awareness creation event in Adama town. On the occasion, Tigist Bogale, Patent and Related Rights Protection Director at EIPO said there are still gaps in EIPO in giving patent rights to the increasing number of creative and innovative works in the country.

On the other hand, there is a possibility for the innovative works to get patent rights in other countries as in the case of the Teff flour preparation process. "Not giving patent right appropriately may result in the loss of patent rights to others."

Registering properties at the patent system has the economic benefits that are derived from its roles in promoting innovation, encouraging investment, economic growth, knowledge sharing and the efficient use of resources.

As to her, innovation benefits the community by creating new and improved goods and services that meet social demands. For example, innovations in medical research may produce new diagnostic tests or treatments, which improve community health and facilitate medical laboratory systems.

In addition to those benefits, patents rights promote innovation through the grant of limited monopolies, as a reward to inventors for the time, effort and inventiveness invested in creating new products and processes.

In Ethiopia, the role of patents as an incentive for innovation and investment has been widely acknowledged in research and health care. For example, the cases of kidney dialysis, Cardiac Center Ethiopia and Medical Research identified that the patent system is a cornerstone in driving innovation in medical research works by enabling researchers to have the protection of their intellectual property and the possibility of capitalizing on their inventions.

Intellectual property protection in Ethiopia has been and will continue to be an essential component of the creative and innovation process that drives medical and other fields of research, as to her.

The patent system has served Ethiopia well and is essential to foster and encourage continuous innovation and research work, which will lead to further enhancements in human health, service providing and product modification.

However, as some cases show, patents do not always reward innovation and research investment equitably. In most cases, including in Ethiopia, where two researchers independently create the same invention, only the first to apply for patent protection will be awarded a patent over the invention.

This may discourage some creative bodies and researchers from embarking on a course of research that is already being shadowed elsewhere, despite the possibility that they may do better than or more efficient work than others, Tigist said.

Yet, possessing a patent right may help a country, creative body or company to grow by capitalizing on the market potential of its inventions. "Small and Medium companies may use patents to attract financial backing to their new projects or product services," she added.

In addition, patents stimulate the growth of the national industry because local companies that hold patents can attract overseas investment and develop products for export with respect to the registered products in quality. Profits generated by patent can be invested in further research work and development, which may stimulate commercial and industrial growth.

Patents also benefit Ethiopian companies and enterprises by providing a system for trading knowledge internationally through license agreements. The grant of licensees to local and international companies to exploit locally developed inventions provides returns to inventors and access to local and foreign markets. The grant of licensees to Ethiopian companies to manufacture inventions developed overseas can improve the skill and know-how within the Ethiopian community.

On the other hand, patents may have adverse economic effects. License fees may drive up the price of goods and services that utilize the patented invention. There are also transaction costs associated with seeking the grant of a patent and enforcing patent rights. Fees must be paid before a patent application will be examined or granted and to maintain patent rights once granted.

Asserting patent rights or challenging those of a competitor, may be costly and difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises because claims of infringement may need to be pursued through the courts. Patents may also have adverse effects on the balance of payments, especially for countries like Ethiopia, which are net importers of intellectual property.

This is because expenditure on license fees or royalties for the use of patents owned by foreign entities may exceed the income earned from the use by foreign entities of local inventions.

In other ways, patent helps resource use and knowledge sharing. Patent rights promote knowledge sharing by requiring the details of the patented invention to be placed in the public domain in return for the exclusive right to exploit the invention. In the absence of this exchange, inventors might protect the details of new inventions through secrecy. The disclosure requirements of the patent system are based on the idea that 'scientific and technical openness benefits the progress of society more than do confidentiality and secrecy'.

Generally, patent rights have encouraged knowledge sharing and reduced the duplication of research effort. They have also encouraged researchers to build on existing inventions. Researchers may study a patented product and find ways to improve upon it.

Besides, access to patented inventions may also facilitate research that would not otherwise be possible. For example, access to a patented research tool may enable vital research into the causes of a genetic disorder, and lead to the creation of a genetic test or treatment. This research may not have occurred if the tool had remained secret. Due to the cumulative nature of much genetic research, knowledge sharing may be particularly important in this context.

However, patents may also inhibit research by discouraging knowledge sharing prior to filing for patent protection. The results of new research may be out of action until an inventor is in a position to apply for a patent, and the invention is sufficiently well developed to ensure that the patent will be granted.

The Ethiopian Herald 10 January 2021

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