In the past decade alone, the rate of innovation has increased with more products released to market than any other time in history. The United States’ Patent Acitivity records that in 1890, only 25 patents were filed. 100 years later in 1990, there were 90,365 filings and by 2020, this grew to nearly 600,000 patents in one single year.
Contrast this with research by Ocean Tomo, a long-time purveyor of intangible assets such as intellectual property rights, which remarked that 90% of the value of S&P 500 companies in its portfolio in 2020 are no longer based on tangibles.
Similar trends are also reflected in Malaysia where charges for the use of intellectual property or IP doubled from 2012, to a peak of USD 290 million in 2021, making this the highest we have achieved to date.
The verdict is clear: there’s been explosive growth in the realm of intellectual property, and with it, there’s money to be made. While data is said to be the new fuel, innovation is no doubt, the new commodity.
Women Creating Value in Innovation Perpetuity
So, how do we engage all of society to tap in on this exciting narrative? One sure way is to engage women who make up about half of the world’s population. While women are named in 33% of international patent applications filed via the World International Patent Organisation (WIPO), with the largest gains in Asia, progress to parity is slow, and expected only in 2053 at the current participation rate.
Excluding women from technology comes at a devastating cost: in the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shaved USD 1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade—a loss that will grow to USD 1.5 trillion by 2025 without action.
No wonder, this year’s World Intellectual Property Day focuses on Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity - which seeks to examine stronger pathways for the supply of innovation by and for women and how to include them in the system. We must realise that bringing women into technology leads to more creative solutions, that directly meet the needs of society as a whole and delivers progress.
Malaysian trailblazers in this regard include Prof. Emerita Datuk Dr. Asma Ismail, the first female President of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the first woman to be the National Science Advisor. In addition to holding 16 patents and commercialising the rapid diagnostic test for typhoid called TYPHIDOT, which is recognised as an affordable kit for many developing countries worldwide, she continues to engage and inspire younger female researchers and scientists to be changemakers through her work.
There is also Dr. Umi Fazara Mohd Ali, whose research looks at novel materials that capture carbon dioxide from agricultural waste to reduce greenhouse gases. And Dr Jezamine Lim, who tipped the scales as the first female doctorate candidate at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to be awarded a PhD in stem cells and tissue engineering. Today, as Principal CEO of Cell Biopeutics Resources, a centralised and comprehensive hub for accessing global stem cell therapies on the market, she is regarded as a pioneer in this field in the region.
These are just a few examples of the women who have mustered their creativity and turned their ideas into viable, commercial products. What we need is more of such shining stars - a strong pipeline of “made in Malaysia” inventions not just for the present, but for the dynamic future. It’s simple economics if we want to improve our global competitiveness.
Read more: Women Are Risk-Takers Too: Busting Gender Myths In The Star
Commercialisation is not the end-game, but an inflection point
In 2020, global patent filings through the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system reached a record of 278,100 in 2022 - the highest number ever recorded in a single year, and Asia accounted for 54.7% of this total. In 2021, the National Intellectual Property Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNIPA) received 1.59 million patent applications, which is more than double that received by the United States.
Clearly, at an international level, the pace and practice related to the creation, development valuation and therein, protection of IP has picked up. The question is - are we moving these along fast enough across critical sectors such as health and living, or for underserved pockets of society?
The biopharmaceutical industry, for example, is characterised by high-risk, time-consuming, and cost intensive processes including basic research, drug discovery, pre-clinical trials, three stages of human clinical trials, regulatory review, post-approval research and safety monitoring. 90% of drug candidates in clinical trials are said to fail. Whether because they don’t adequately treat the condition they’re meant to target or the side effects are too strong, many drug candidates never advance to the approval stage. On average, it takes 10 to 15 years and around US$1 billion to develop one successful drug.
So in as much as we have startup fan moments with cool apps that seem to have been developed in a blink, the reality is innovators across many industries often undertake the often risky, difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process of creating novel and breakthrough solutions.
Our commercialisation rate needs a booster shot - a formula which includes support and incentives from governments and companies to invest in researching, developing, manufacturing, and marketing solutions to bring us to commercialisation which is the crossroad where innovation meets impact.
Giving Ideas Roots and Wings To Fly
Fortunately, with technological advancements - 5G data networks, for example, the floodgates for greater volume, velocity and valuable innovation to be co-created and harnessed is possible. As the rate of innovation improves, products and services can become more affordable.
Whether it’s creating a new skincare formula for a multi-trillion dollar beauty industry, addressing the problem of waste management which could cost the country billions if not handled properly, or generating alternative crops to feed a growing population, R&D offers us great promise - given wings.
With the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI), the premise is simple: to support mission focussed R&D, fast-tracking ideas to impact, where innovative technology matches its specific (and eventually profitable) use case - to benefit all in society. We have various programmes, infrastructure and facilities in our 686-acre innovation park to prototype and test ideas, as well as a gamut of partnerships across academia, government and corporations to accelerate “thought to thing”.
Malaysia’s National Survey of Research and Development (R&D) showed that between 2016 and 2020, more than 386 projects were commercialised, cumulatively valued at just over RM400 million. So what’s next?
The truth is, we must up the ante. The huge number of patent filings worldwide are the result of efforts that were mooted at least five or ten years prior. Given the long gestation for patents to be filed, products to be tested and commercialised, we have no time to waste.
The time is now to realise our shared future - one of greater wealth and well-being, altogether with women in the fold.