The Role of Intellectual Property in Third Word Universities

Guest article by Jerry Omulo,

Intellectual Property (IP) commercialisation is undoubtedly the next economic driver globally. IP management is therefore important to all source of IP assets especially, our universities. Globalization has reduced the world into one village and nobody can ignore IP which has already taken shape and positioned itself as the next solution to the major problems facing humanity globally.
The truth of the matter is that a part from few 3rd world Universities and specifically African Universities, many are ill prepared to compete in the global arena. Interestingly is that due to modernity and globalization, there is a serious pressure for our universities to move at the same pace globally. However challenges from colonialism, capitalism and globalization have affected Third World University education immensely. It is worth mentioning however that these three issues have their negative and positive effect.
The immediate challenges these universities face, include but not limited to; poor or outdated equipment, whether in laboratories, fields or offices, syllabus or curriculum adopted also sometimes is only to suit the prevailing socio-economic, political and environmental factors. The personnel experience, strength and qualification is also sometimes compromised due to this challenges faced by our universities. This therefore extends to political goodwill, culture and traditions. The danger with all this is that final graduates will not have hand on experience, be competitive and convert intangibles into tangible.
However intellectual property and technology transfer is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our universities could concentrate their studies on expired patents, utility models, and outdated copyright with the aim of coming up with much needed usable technologies. With proper strategies and policies for IP management, our universities will be more innovative as well as inventive. Our universities must begin developing institutions and offices that will spearhead IP management as this could be a source of wealth creation, attracting grants, loans, donors, companies, investors etc to the university. Our universities must engage competent expertise who are capable to advise on protection and commercialisation of IP since universities, by their very nature, are custodians of the Society’s generated knowledge. IP can also act as value addition increasing the self-worth of the University. Why would somebody feel proud of being a product of Harvard University? Is it not because of the total sum of its IP value? Our universities could also facilitate development and assist the locals through initiating start ups, spin-outs, research and development (R&D), business incubation and innovation. They could also generate affordable local technologies for local problems. The list of how IP can benefit both the University and the society is endless but how can this be made a reality?
The starting point must be massive awareness campaigns about IP across our universities and the society at large. We can then move to have forum where the Universities can discuss, share their challenges and find solution to teething problems related to IP policy formulation and management and this can easily be done through ICT. The universities can then start IP departments and offices before achieving mature stage where IP is propelled by serious company or Government Corporation within the University. Africa and other developing nations have missed many opportunities to develop for many reasons, ranging from historical development injustices, corruption and jumping into ideas and ideologies that they did not clearly understand. IP development strategies under WIPO seem real and this should not elude us again. As I have always warned, IP is like a double edge sword capable of cutting both sides or IP is a tool and just like any other tool it depends on how it is used and who is using it. It is therefore my deep concern that University should not jump into IP without the right advice, knowledgeable personnel, proper structure and framework. In this I give kudos, complement and recognize the work already being done by CIPIT. However this alone will not achieve the desired result if the vast elite & lawmakers remains ignorance about IP including our universities. Therefore our Universities and internal country institutions must play their noble, necessary and critical role towards IP strategies.

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