‘How and when you want to share your intellectual property with others should be your decision’

On Saturday 25 June, 13 scientists concluded a two-day course at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on the subtleties of intellectual property protection. This course was the fruit of a partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which has joined forces with UNESCO since 2018 to give interested prize-winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme an introduction to the intellectual property system.
Course on intellectual property

This year, L’Oréal-UNESCO laureate for Africa and the Arab States, chemist Dr Catherine Ngila from Kenya, and twelve International Rising Talents took part in the course, four of them virtually. The nine women had travelled to Paris to receive their awards during a week of events organized jointly by the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO within the L’Oréal–UNESCO For Women in Science Programme.

Each woman had a slightly different motivation for signing up for the WIPO course. Dr Ngila wished to deepen her knowledge of intellectual property as part of her foundation’s work to mentor women and youth in science interested in using their invention as a source of income or funding for additional research.

Neuroscientist Dr Laura-Joy Boulos from Lebanon needed knowledge of intellectual property to identify areas for the possible commercialization of her research or benefit-sharing when running her new start-up.

Geologist Dr Irene del Real from Chile was planning to use her newfound knowledge of intellectual property to explore potential commercial applications of her research tied to mineral exploration which could be useful to investors in this industry.

Dr Lina Dahabiyeh from Jordan wished to know how to use the patent system to protect the new bioanalytical techniques that she was developing in order to detect medical conditions like Parkinson’s using the chemical entities that she had discovered.

Dr Vida Engmann from Denmark was interested in knowing how to protect the new materials that she has been developing for low-cost, third-generation solar cells that could come in multiple shapes and sizes and how to make these new materials available to the market.

We want them to find the right balance between their capacities and their contribution to the larger body of scientific research
Altaye Tedla Head of the Distance Learning Programme at the WIPO Academy

She led the training, which was also dispensed by WIPO experts Lutz Maliander, Malathi Lakshmikumaran and Leonid Chechurin by video link.

One question that came up during the training was the interplay between intellectual property protection and the practice of open science. Ana Persic, Executive Secretary of the L’Oréal–UNESCO Programme, recalled that UNESCO’s 193 member states had adopted a Recommendation on Open Science last November in which they committed to facilitating the practice of open science in their respective countries.

Dr Boulos observed that open science was ‘fine but others can then develop protections on our intellectual property’, to which Ms Tedla replied that ‘how and when to share your intellectual property should be your decision and the intellectual property system allows you to do this’. That is why it is important for researchers who are at the forefront of their fields to know about patents, in particular, and the intellectual property system, in general.

Without contradiction, there is no problem to solve

The course covered topics such as the structure of a patent document, patent protection issues in science and other forms of intellectual property used by scientists: copyright, utility models (petty patents or innovation patents), industrial design, trademarks, geographical indications, new plant varieties, traditional knowledge and genetic resources.

The last day was dedicated to the systematic innovation and creativity methodology known as TRIZ. Also known as the theory of invention, TRIZ principles aim to explain how creativity occurs. Two examples are the Ideal Final Result and the Elimination of Contradictions. The concept of Ideal Final Result involves searching for the ideal solution without compromise. The Elimination of Contradictions concept considers that systematically identifying contradictions in the field of research and eliminating them leads to innovative solutions. A common example of the latter is the car that you wish to make accelerate faster. You may put in a bigger engine but the weight of the engine will then reduce its performance. This is a contradiction between power (which you want) and weight (which you do not want). All technical solutions solve contradictions in terms of time, space, cost, etc…. If there is no contradiction, there is no problem to solve.

The participants said that learning about these concepts and examples from the WIPO lectures had encouraged them to push back the boundaries in their fields.

Consider your intellectual property prior to publishing

Researchers often don’t realize that, in most cases, their publications in academic journals fall into the public domain or form part of prior art. This means that the information and data therein can be sourced for commercial value by others. WIPO staff explained in a succession of lectures that scientists could avoid this happening by considering obtaining intellectual property protection for their invention first before publishing an article on it.

The trainees were introduced to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which is administered by WIPO. Ms Tedla explained that intellectual property protection was national. ‘In the case of patents, you can also take the regional route through industrial property or patent offices, such as through the European Patent Office or the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization’, she said. ‘What WIPO does is to allow inventors to file through the international system, which allows you to register your intellectual property in other countries, such as those that have a bigger market in your field. The PCT allows you to file once in your country then to select other countries in which you wish to commercialize it. Other researchers can then find information and knowledge on your invention’ including for teaching and learning purposes. She added that, ‘if other researchers or investors wished to exploit your invention commercially, however, they would need to get your permission. Alternatively, they would need to seek a licensing agreement or other forms of collaboration that suited you for the duration of your intellectual property right’. Generally speaking, patent rights last for 20 years, utility models for six years and industrial designs for ten years.

The PCT, thus, assists applicants in securing patent protection for their invention internationally, helps patent offices decide on whether or not to grant the patent and offers the public access to technical information on the invention covered by a patent.