On World Health Day, we celebrate health. On Earth Day, we celebrate the Earth. And on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, we celebrate – well, you get the picture.
On 26 April, World Intellectual Property Day, we celebrate the global intellectual property (IP) system. Why, though, do we set aside a day for the entire world to stop and reflect on a subject that, for many, seems more at home in boardrooms, lecture halls and legislatures?
To be sure, one reason for everyone to celebrate intellectual property – not just today, but every day of the year – is the veritable catalogue of innovations that touch our lives day after day, wherever we live. Whether they’re lifesaving medicines, smartphones, the fabrics we wear or the cars and trains and bicycles that get us where we need to go, the innovations brought about by intellectual property have a tangible impact on countless aspects of our lives.
But this year is a particularly special one to celebrate the intellectual property system: a Colombian man named Antonio Gonzalo Hoyos Barón filed a patent application on a mechanism that uses retractile nails to improve traction on automobiles in sliding soils. What’s remarkable about this is that Hoyos is an individual inventor who could not afford the legal assistance often needed to navigate the complexities of the patent system. Thanks to an exciting new initiative called the Inventor Assistance Program (IAP), he was able to secure that assistance, and to do so free of charge, marking what is probably the first time in history that an under-resourced inventor in a developing country was able to approach the patent system with the advice and assistance of a qualified pro bono patent attorney.
A joint effort between the World Economic Forum and the World Intellectual Property Organization, the IAP was developed and built with the support and contributions of local governments, law firms and corporate supporters such as Novartis and Qualcomm. It's the first and only global scheme of its kind aimed at improving access to the patent system in developing countries by matching local financially challenged inventors and small businesses with qualified patent attorneys to help them secure protection for their inventions.
Designed to help developing-country inventors navigate and use the patent system – a critical step in the process of converting promising local ideas into economically and socially valuable innovations – the IAP is built on the fundamental understanding that creativity and great ideas come from people all over the world, as well as the belief that a successful intellectual property system must be accessible to all, irrespective of socioeconomic status, geography or financial means.
After a pilot programme launched last year in Colombia – a country chosen for its reputation as a strong supporter of IP rights in the region – the IAP has been met with a flood of enthusiasm from local inventors, academics and entrepreneurs. Several Colombian inventors are now in the process of being matched with pro bono legal assistance. The programme has since been launched in Morocco and the Philippines, and will eventually be launched globally, to help more inventors in developing countries unlock their potential with the aid of the patent system.
And who are these inventors? They are you, me, the man or woman next door, the farmer up the road, and the mechanic in town. They are people in countries the world over who now have a better chance of turning their ideas into real innovations that shape and enhance lives. That, in the end, is what World Intellectual Property Day is really about. And that is truly something to celebrate.