Nº 4 2013 > WSIS Forum 2013
High-Level Dialogue on ICT Innovation and Standards
How is the innovation process in developing countries different from developed countries? What are the key ingredients for establishing a climate that is conducive to sustaining ICT innovations? Is there a link between ICT standards, patents and innovations? What are the specific challenges facing emerging economies in sustaining ICT innovations? These were some of the questions addressed by the High-Level Dialogue on ICT Innovation and Standards.
The process of innovation can be divided into two separate stages: the conception stage and the commercialization stage. During the conception stage, ideas are conceived followed by their experimentation, prototyping and validation. Educational systems play a key role in the conception stage, as they provide innovators necessary foundational knowledge. The availability of adequate funding over a long period of time is also essential for the prototyping and validation of ideas. In this respect, governments and funding institutions play an important role in providing long-term funding for innovation projects — particularly those that carry a high-risk of failure but which, if successful, could have a high beneficial impact on society.
The commercialization phase of innovation involves society’s adoption of the ideas conceived and validated during the first phase. Widespread adoption of ideas requires business knowledge about returns on investments; start-up culture in which venture capital, angel investors or other seed funding are available; a solid patent protection system; and a legal framework in which start-up companies can be easily set up or dissolved.
An innovation system comprises a network of institutions, rules, and procedures that influence ways in which a country acquires, creates, disseminates and uses knowledge. The actors in the innovation system include universities, public and private research centres, enterprises, consulting firms and policy-makers. The innovation performance of a country largely depends on how these actors relate to each other as elements of a broader system.
Two types of innovation are emerging in developing countries: frugal innovation and reverse innovation. Frugal innovation involves taking innovations originally designed for the developed world and adapting them specifically for low-income market segments. Reverse innovation involves new products developed in emerging markets, which are then modified for sale in developed countries. Frugal innovation reduces the complexity and cost of products and enhances affordable solutions and services. The frugal innovation approach is becoming increasingly popular in emerging markets. But frugal innovations sometimes lack quality and could have implications on patent, copyright and other intellectual property rights.
Countries such as Mexico and India identified the need for frugal innovations as a means to bridge the socio-economic divide, particularly through the availability of affordable technology. In Mexico, the government is working towards making public funds more widely available to finance research and development. There is also a focus on finance reform in order to increase the availability of credit to the private sector for use in research and development activities, as well as on telecommunication reform to increase Internet access to all citizens. Finally, there are also programmes to provide ICT training and skills to the population in order to reduce skill gaps and meet market demand. In India, funding is provided for basic and applied research — there is no separate funding for innovation. An adequate innovation ecosystem is needed in developing countries to foster innovation from grassroots level.
Google’s concept of innovation is to think outside the box and rethink the existing models. The case of the self-driving car was mentioned as an example to illustrate this. The idea is to build a car without the preconceived conceptions of current transportation systems.
Measuring the impact of ICT innovations is not an easy task because it has implications on other sectors. A lot of research is still going on in this area. One measure is the economic value of patents. Recent analysis shows that many of the world’s new technologies are now being produced in Japan, China and the Republic of Korea. In 2012, China filed the same number of international patent applications as Germany. There is a geographic shift of the value of patents from traditional western developed economies to the emerging economies in Asia.
Innovations in developing countries may not always be patented, but it is worthwhile to emphasize their advantages and benefits for citizens. Registering a patent is an expensive and lengthy process. Communication channels between the public sector and academia are needed to facilitate matters. The expense can be broken down into three parts: lawyers’ fees, translation costs and government fees.
Standards are important because they define how telecommunication networks operate and interwork and enable people from all over the world to communicate. A patent system creates an incentive for innovators to develop new products for the market. But there is a need to have better databases on linkage between patents and standards.
There was consensus that under the leadership of ITU, a manual or textbook should be developed and distributed to serve as a training tool on ICT innovation and standards; better databases should be developed concerning the relationship and linkage between patents and standards, and participation in the ITU–T Focus Group on Bridging the Gap: From Innovations to Standards should be encouraged. These actions should be carried out in collaboration with governments, policy-makers, ICT companies, international, regional and national organizations, academia, and other relevant stakeholders.
Apart from serving as a tool for training, the manual or textbook would provide a greater understanding on the relationship between ICT innovations, intellectual property and standards. It would also raise awareness on innovation and standards among the various stakeholders in the ICT ecosystem, including, in particular, policy-makers at the international, regional and national levels.
The ITU–T Focus Group on Bridging the Gap: From Innovations to Standards provides an initial platform for recognizing and identifying innovations emerging in developing countries that may benefit from standardization. Governments, the private sector, academia and research organizations all have a very important role to play in the innovation ecosystem and participation in the work of this ITU–T Focus Group would pave the way forward in recognizing the innovations happening in emerging economies. The High-Level Dialogue’s ideas will be presented to the next meeting of the focus group.