Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Zimbabwe missing from the knowledge economy

The 2014 edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair was held from on the 22nd of April 2014. The main purpose of the ZITF is to give companies and individuals from different background across the world an opportunity to showcase their innovative products and business solutions to their customers and potential customers with a view to increasing their consumer base for their customers and also for purposes of gaining market access by new companies and those beyond our borders.
As part of its annual tradition, the ZITF in partnership with the National Economic Consultative Forum this year organised an international business conference under the theme “TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION: A KEY PILLAR FOR ZIMASSET’s SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION”. This is a very apt theme especially at this critical juncture when Zimbabwe is repositioning and rejuvenating herself to arrest the myriad of challenges currently bedeviling the socio-economic landscape. Coincidentally, during the very same week of the exhibitions at ZITF, the international community was celebrating the World Intellectual Property Day – a day set aside by the international community to celebrate the important role of human creativity and innovation that is helping make the world a better and conducive place to live through the creation of new inventions and innovative products for use and consumption by people across the world.  Such platforms for dialogue, exhibitions and international events are particularly paramount and extremely significant as they help find lasting solutions to the socio-economic problems affecting countries like Zimbabwe and the world at the present moment. As such they should be always encouraged.
It cannot be assailed that the ZIMASSET is one of the most profound economic blueprints to have emerged in the history of Zimbabwe since independence. The fundamental aspiration of this policy document, that is, to see a robust and fast developing and sustainable Zimbabwean economy with benefits to its citizens and that is able to compete with other economies within the region, is only attainable if the ZIMASSET is successfully and objectively implemented. It is, indeed, encouraging to note that Zimbabwe recognises the primary importance and value of innovation and technology as fulcrums for economic development as these are espoused and firmly entrenched in ZIMASSET. Sadly, at the present moment, as outlined in the Global Innovation Index Report published annually by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Zimbabwe ranks very low in terms of innovation and technological development. As such it is imperative for the country to put in place deft strategies to ensure that the country climbs the ladder of innovation and compete with the rest of the world.
As has been aptly observed by the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (the UN specialised agency charged with intellectual property matters to which Zimbabwe is also a member), Dr. Francis Gurry, innovation is central to economic growth and to the creation of new and better jobs. It is the key to competitiveness for countries, for industries and for individual firms. It is the process by which solutions are developed to social and economic challenges. And it is the source of improvements in the quality of all aspects of our material life. It must also be noted that innovation and its many benefits do not come without the investment of time, effort and human and financial resources. Technological developments as we know them with all the business, social, and economic benefits they offer to the people are a result of innovation and creativity. It is also the reason why we have intellectual property. It should be appreciated that innovation does not occur in a vacuum but through a consciously planned effort that recognizes the need to motivate the innovators so that they continue to bring new and better ideas to the country and indeed to the world at large.

The intellectual property system becomes critically relevant in the whole innovation discourse as it provides the required incentives through the granting of temporary monopolies to innovators to recoup the costs that are heavily associated with research and development particularly in the area of pharmaceutical research and drug development. For example the life saving HIV medicines which have drastically reduced the number of HIV and ADIS related deaths came as a result of innovation and technology but not without heavy investments into research and development.
The ability to manage and exploit innovation and the resultant intellectual property is key to success in today’s world in which intellectual, rather than physical, assets are one of the primary sources of wealth and competitive advantage. Recognition and protection of innovation through the intellectual property system is therefore a necessary precondition for development today.
Zimbabwe, however, like most developing countries, still has an underdeveloped system for intellectual property. This obviously is a clear testament to the fact that innovation and creativity have not been hitherto given much credence in the economic development discourse in the country. Given the loud and clear ambitions of value addition and beneficiation as espoused in the ZIMASSET policy document, there is now an ardent need to address how innovation can be entrenched and anchored in the socio-economic processes of the country. It is now trite and banal that in this globalised world, the cultivation of a culture of innovation and creativity is the only way to ensuring that the country’s products can compete with those from the rest of the world.
Several governments across the world have systematically used the intellectual property system as a key tool in their strategies to achieve their economic development goals. During the four decades after the Korean War, the Republic of Korea successfully transformed itself from a poor agrarian economy with a per capita income of less than US$100 into a highly industrialized country with a per capita income of US$12,000 and internationally recognized brands and technologies such as Samsung and LG. It did this through a systematic economic and trade development policy, including heavy investment in  capacity building, human resource development, incentives for technological innovation and the development of domestic intellectual property assets. According to a study by the Korea Development Institute, technological progress was one of the most important sources of national income growth between 1963 and 2000. The intellectual property system evolved in tandem with technological innovation and infrastructure during this period, helping to promote an inventive culture in the initial years of Korea’s economic development, when technology level was low. As South Korea moved from labour-intensive to capital intensive production in the 1970s, the intellectual property system provided a stable environment for facilitating technology transfer and Foreign Direct Investment, and encouraged the beginnings of local R&D in simple technologies through the protection of utility models and small inventions. In the next phase, the intellectual property system was an important catalyst for the development of indigenous technology by Korean companies, several of which have become global market leaders.
Cuba has also used the patent system in its strategy to develop its highly successful biotechnology industry, which was reported in 2000 to be one of the country’s largest export earners with annual sales as high as US$290 million, and employing 34,000 people. Cuba is reported to have international patents on 66 pharmaceuticals.
Singapore has put into place a strategy - coordinated across different government departments - to build it into an intellectual property hub, conducive to the creation, ownership, exploitation and management of intellectual assets. This involves not only training in intellectual property protection, exploitation and management, but also helping local SMEs audit their intellectual property assets and develop intellectual property management strategies. It is quite interesting to note that both South Korea and Singapore have insignificant natural resources yet they have managed to develop their countries to such an advanced state based on innovation and the exploitation of the intellectual property system.
Closer home, even South Africa is increasingly contributing significant capital to the development of industries dependent on effective copyright protection. For example, the South African government owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) - which contributes to economic growth, industrial development and economic empowerment through its financing activities - has been active in the media and motion picture sector, where it has invested ZAR500 Million in motion picture projects that can show sustainable commercial viability. Such sustainable commercial viability would not be possible without copyright protection. In addition, the South African government has introduced a Large Budget Film and Television Production Rebate Scheme, under the auspices of the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI) that will refund local movie-makers 25% and foreign moviemakers 15% of their investment in film production in South Africa. This policy of investment in copyright-based industries recognises the long term value in contributing to innovative local industries.
While intellectual property protection is a necessary pre-condition of development in today’s world, such protection has to be supported by other appropriate policies and a deep commitment by the government to establish an effective infrastructure to process and make use of the intellectual property system. Without positive action by country, the intellectual property system will not fulfill its potential as a tool for development, growth and progress and at the same time innovation and technological development are retarded much to the detriment of economic and social development.
In line with the aspirations of the ZIMSSET, it is therefore important for Zimbabwe to consider and undertake the a number of activities with a view to ensuring the promotion of innovation and technological development for purposes of adding value of goods originating from Zimbabwe to be able to compete on global markets. Such activities include the restructuring of government Ministries and Department that are directly and indirectly responsible for promoting innovation and technological Development. Such departments include the Science and Technology Department within the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education and the Intellectual Property Office within the Ministry of Justice. In fact under the ZIMASSET policy, Ministries are required to reorient and realign their activities and administration for effectiveness and efficiency in the discharge of their mandate. It is quite disheartening to note that, the Intellectual Property Office in the Ministry of Justice for instance, still has the structure and same methods of administration of intellectual property issues as it was put in place in 1894 when the Deeds Registry was established by the then British South Africa Company. This is the structure of administration currently obtaining in the country despite the fact that the intellectual property landscape within which innovation operates has immensely changed. Surely the country cannot move forward unless such issues are addressed for purposes of fostering innovation. There is also need to improve the accessibility of the national and international intellectual property protection systems in terms of costs and ease of use. The government should also ensure the following:
  • ensuring that intellectual property institutions are efficient and sufficiently funded;
  • supporting intellectual property policies with sound economic management, good infrastructure and other appropriate policies in areas such as education, science and technology, culture, taxes, investment regulations, production and technical incentives, trade, and competition;
  • establishing an active and coherent intellectual property policy coordinated throughout government bodies;
  • educating local communities, businesses and the public on the potential benefits of the intellectual property system;
  • providing assistance to innovators/producers/creators on how to use intellectual property protection to their commercial advantage and supporting efforts of stakeholder organisations in this area;
  • bridging the gap between academic and research institutions, government and industries;
  • making it a priority to strengthen and/or create a legal framework to ensure implementation and effective enforcement measures against intellectual property theft. There is also a need for clearly designated and sufficiently resourced enforcement institutions, supported by training, international cooperation and public education; and
  • enhancing information and communication technological base of the country as this a critical area on which 90 percent of business transactions are conducted.

In conclusion, the ZIMASSET policy document is a very good initiative and forms the springboard to jump start the Zimbabwean economy that has been in free fall following the imposition of sanctions by western governments. As highlighted by the Vice President, Cde Joyce Mujuru at one occasion, the ZIMASSET policy document is an elastic document and Government departments should interpret it fluidly and objectively with a view to improving economic and social developments. As highlighted above, intellectual property plays a significant role in promoting innovation and technological development which are very much needed to exploit the vast natural resources base which Zimbabwe possesses. Without innovation and technology, the realization of economic and social development will remain dream as Zimbabwe will not be able to economically exploit the vast natural resources that lie in the all the corners of the country. The situation currently obtaining in the country where we are exporting most products in primary form is an undesirable one given the trite fact that raw products do not fetch much value on international markets. The unassailable fact is that innovation and technology are the game changers in promoting socio-economic development.