Letter: Intellectual property’s role in diversification

Letter: Intellectual property’s role in diversification

Dear Sir:

The Trinidad and Tobago newspapers have reported the signing of a MOU between the UTT (University of T&T) and the T&T Ministry of Legal Affairs to create training programmes in intellectual property (IP) and to develop a relationship between the UTT and the existing IP Office.


The accompanying talk is that IP and knowledge are the new basic resource that can spawn diversification, global competitive companies. Hence, the IP Office that operates under the World Intellectual Property Organisation but located in the Ministry, will be expanded into an IP Authority, charged with the management of this hoped for resource that could underpin our economic diversification.

The question that arises is where is this flood of IP, of inventiveness, to come from that will feed our diversification?

UTT claims that its programmes help its students become entrepreneurs, help them turn their ideas into products and develop these into scaled up companies with the various supply/export trains. Our T&T graduates and potential entrepreneurs, inventors, do not exist in an economic vacuum. They operate in a plantation economy whose private sector has developed certain rigidities that act against this kind of higher risk entrepreneurship, which (the latter) depends on- exploiting knowledge and IP.

The current onshore private sector is risk averse, is mal-adaptive, or, as some say, the rents from the energy sector allow the on-shore business to be very profitable by low-risk import-markup-sell activities. My concern is that this rigidity has damaged the ability of the private sector to adapt, even to change their modus operandi in the face of the depleting petroleum resources and the emerging competition from the US.

The current recession is a vivid indicator of this behaviour, as we see the private sector squabbling over who should get the severely reduced foreign exchange now available in the country, instead of reorganising themselves into becoming globally competitive exporters.

Simply introducing new institutions like the IP Authority is insufficient without providing the economic agents – the highly skilled R&D personnel – the entrepreneurs and, of utmost importance, the interconnections among them via Centres of Excellence, the higher risk financing, marketing and market development. These will provide an environment for the selected areas of endeavour in which IP is to be produced.

The standalone new authority then will simply take its place among many other T&T institutions that did not fulfil the dreams of their creators, e.g. the ADB, ExportTT, VCIP, Tamana Park.

Surely, the IP Authority is a necessary institution, but it has to be embedded in a national innovation system that provides the economic agents and encourages the intellectual and business interconnections among them that produces the IP and generates the start-up companies that can scale up into our lucrative foreign exchange earners.

Such an innovation system can also support the serendipity inventor/entrepreneurs who have the occasional ‘ah ha’ moments.

Mary K King
St Augustine