BUSINESS MAVERICK

Africa in the cold when it comes to patent hot spots

By Peter Kenny 19 November 2019

Wipo director-deneral Francis Gurry. (Photo: Peter Kenny)

The finding is contained in the World Intellectual Property Report, which looks at the geography of innovation and how that affects innovation patterns.

Some 30 metropolitan hot spots alone accounted for 69% of patents and 48% of scientific activity during the 2015-2017 period. Still, unfortunately, none of them is remotely near South Africa, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) has revealed.

The hot spots are mostly located in five countries – China, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States, while in Africa and South Africa there are “niche clusters”, said Wipo.

The 2019 edition of Wipo’s World Intellectual Property Report analysed millions of patent and scientific publication records across several decades.

Wipo said the report looks at the geography of innovation and how that affects innovation patterns.

The report clearly establishes that local hubs are extremely important,” Wipo director-general Francis Gurry told journalists at the United Nations office in Geneva this week.

Among the reasons are the concentration of skilled workers and scientists and people working in research and development that gives the possibility of the exchange of ideas and it builds momentum,” said the Wipo chief.

He noted, “Today’s innovation landscape is highly globally interlinked. Increasingly complex technological solutions for shared global challenges need ever larger and more-specialised teams of researchers, which rely on international collaboration. It is imperative that economies remain open in the pursuit of innovation.”

The Wipo Intellectual Property Report concluded that innovative activity has grown increasingly collaborative and transnational while originating in a few large clusters located in a small number of countries.

When it comes to Africa, Wipo has cited six cities in three countries – South Africa, Egypt and Kenya – that fall under the category of “Global Specialised Niche Clusters”.

SA home to three clusters

South Africa is home to three clusters: Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, while Egypt in Cairo and Kenya in Nairobi each have one cluster.

Wipo says there are two crucial areas in the innovation landscape, one relating to the advent of autonomous vehicles technology, which is broadening the innovation landscape, with several IT-focused hot spots.

Another is crop biotech, which is conceived in urban labs and diffused to agricultural areas.

The report also studies trends in agricultural biotechnology.

Most scientific and inventive activity in crop biotechnology occurs in a few economies. China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the US account for more than 55% of all crop biotech articles and more than 80% of all patents,” says the report.

Relative to other fields of innovation, however, innovative activity is more geographically widespread, spanning many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The data partly reflects the need to adapt innovations to local conditions.

Still, no African country qualifies as an international agriculture biotechnology, or agbio, cluster.

Agbio clusters

International agbio clusters are selected based on two measures of innovation in the industry, foreign-oriented patents and scientific publications,” says Wipo.

Several cities on the African continent show measures of innovative activity in the plant biotechnology industry.

The most prominent of these are the following 11 clusters in eight countries: Benin (Cotonou), Egypt (Cairo), Kenya (Nairobi), Nigeria (Ibadan), South Africa (Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria and Stellenbosch), Tunisia (Tunis), Uganda (Kampala) and Zimbabwe (Harare).

Most African regions show innovative activities based on the measure of scientific publication outputs, rather than with patents, in the industry, a pattern similar to many less developed economies.

Scientists and researchers residing on the African continent produce nearly 2% of the total scientific publications worldwide in the industry.

In contrast, their North American, European and Asian counterparts account for more than 80% of this total.

Inventors residing in Africa account for only 0.06% of global patent filings. North America, Europe and Asia account for more than 90% of this total.

Wipo signposts the African universities leading the niche clusters in the biotech area.

These are:

Benin: Africa Rice Centre, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Benin).

Egypt: Alexandria University, Cairo University, Agricultural Research Center – Egypt, Ain Shams University, Kafrelsheikh University.

Kenya: University of Nairobi, International Livestock Research Institute, Egerton University, International Crops Research Institute, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

Nigeria: University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, University of Nigeria.

South Africa: Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Agricultural Research Council of South Africa, University of the Free State.

Tunisia: Universite de Tunis-El-Manar, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique de Tunisie, Centre de Biotechnologie de Borj Cédria, Universite de Sfax, Centre de Biotechnologie de Sfax.

Uganda: Makerere University, International Food Policy Research Institute (Uganda), International Livestock Research Institute (Uganda).

Zimbabwe: University of Zimbabwe, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT), National University of Science and Technology (Zimbabwe). BM

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