The role of IP offices in Asia’s pandemic-riddled business landscape
24 August 2021
Asia is now seeing a resurgence of Covid 19 cases driven largely by the dreaded Delta variant. Some countries in the region are even posting record numbers in terms of daily infections like Malaysia and the Philippines. Indonesia also posted a record number of deaths from the virus on August 19, 2021 - at 1,492. Japan which successfully hosted the Summer Olympic Games recently, has also seen a surge in its numbers.
What can business enterprises in Asia do to overcome the effects of a Covid 19 resurgence and stay strong?
“Historically, those who put research and innovation at the heart of their strategies are those who stand and thrive in the face of a crisis,” said Rowel S. Barba, Director General of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) and Chair of the ASEAN Working Group on IP Cooperation.
“As early as now, we are seeing disruptive companies capturing the technological growth opportunities in this pandemic. Food delivery apps, ride hailing platforms and e-commerce are seeing revenues soar at a time of economic downturn. Stories like theirs are compelling a golden period of innovation to happen for greater resilience and building stronger, especially ahead of a future weighed with uncertainties as many fear that COVID will be endemic,” added Barba, a panelist at the plenary session on "Charting our Future: Emerging Stronger through Innovation and IP" at IP Week @ SG 2021 from August 24 – 25, 2021.
Intellectual property offices have a role to play in spurring business enterprises in their respective countries to participate in this golden period of innovation. And micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are not exempt from taking part as well.
In IPOPHL’s case, it quickly resorted to digitalization of services at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. This helped ensure that IP filings will continue despite the government-imposed quarantine periods.
It also intensified its education programs on IP protection and management especially for the MSMEs which constitute the bulk of business entities in the Philippines. Through its capacity-building workshops, webinars and other MSME-tailored programs, IPOPHL shares stories of small enterprises that have grown, thanks to their IP assets, in hopes that others will follow suit and achieve business growth and success despite the hard times.
“We are encouraging innovators to think more like entrepreneurs,” said Barba, “and entrepreneurs to think more like innovators.”
IPOPHL also decided to place the spotlight on MSMEs for its celebration of National IP Month in April this year, with the theme "IP and MSMEs: Our Road to Recovery."
Fostering innovation and creativity through IP was actually part of the Philippine government’s economic recovery plan early on. Among others, the government aimed for the strengthening of IP management skills among MSMEs in the country.
The Board of Investments also approved incentives for projects aiming to commercialize uncommercialized patents. These include projects pursued by members of IPOPHL’s Innovation and Technology Support Office Program for enabling patent creation in the academe.
Problems are also being addressed at the legislative level. Barba shared how the Philippine Senate made an inquiry regarding the losses suffered by the local film industry from piracy during an annual film festival in the country. “This has given greater cause to accelerate the passage of a law that will allow more independent creators and artists to profit directly from their works,” Barba said.
In 2019, IPOPHL recorded 47,282 annual filings for IP protection. Not only is this a 10 percent increase from the number of filings in 2018; this is also a record number. Sadly, the number of IP filings fell during the pandemic in 2020.
However, things are starting to get rosy again and efforts are now bearing fruit.
“In the first semester of the year, IP filings are rebounding, mainly due to the reopening of our economy during the period; the availability of our online filing and payment system and mobile app called IPOPHL Mobiliz; and the dedicated work we have been doing at IPOPHL to encourage people to protect their IP assets and use them as tools for their recovery and building better,” said Barba.
“Our improving filings also signify that IP protection is becoming a means for enterprises and innovators to overcome uncertainties in the future. Moreover, we have been seeing great interest in IP. Our webinars are enjoying a great number of participants, far more than what we could achieve in a physical setting due to limited room space,” he added.
He likens it to the 2008 financial crisis when patenting activities dropped immediately following the recession. Years after however, the patent scene experienced sharp growth which surpassed the pre-global economic crisis pace. In 2012, global patent filings grew by 9.2 percent, the fastest growth in 18 years. In the Philippines, patent filings in 2015 registered an annual growth of 52 percent, the fastest in 14 years.
“Past financial crises have paved the way for a reconstruction period that favors the agile, innovative, and competitive. From history and psychology, we know difficult times could penetrate previously unreached corners of our minds and senses. And from this,” said Barba, “many new creative and innovative ideas can come forth.”
Certainly, it is happening again, this proliferation of new ideas and innovations which have come to characterize the world as we know it today – a world riddled by a global pandemic, yet one that will continue despite that.
Espie Angelica A. de Leon