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There is an intriguing story from Malaysia which states that the country is thinking about the adoption of a national plan for intellectual property. If it goes ahead, it will see senior cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, playing an active part. Although there is little detail at the moment, the proposal seems to be modelled very closely on the Japanese IP Strategic Programme, created by ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to help Japan become a country based on the development and exploitation of intellectual property rights.
It is too early to say how successful the IP Strategic Programme has been in Japan; but what is undoubtedly clear is that with the Prime Minister providing the impetus, things have been happening. A new IP High Court has been created, for example, while Japan’s universities have been given greater powers and incentives to commercialise intellectual property, and the JPO has been instructed from on high to deal with its growing backlog problem and to reduce the cost of patenting. The JPO has also been involved in a wide-ranging education programme designed to explain the benefits of IP rights to the country’s businesses and to encourage an increase in the number of licensing deals done in Japan.
Of course, governments can only do so much. In the end it is up to IP owners to make the most of what they have. But if you provide the right environment in which to operate and you make sure that you explain why IP is so important, and what you can do with it, then you are probably doing as good a job as you can. Malaysia is operating in a very competitive part of the world and old advantages based on things such as the relatively cheap cost of labour are in the process of disappearing with the emergence of countries like China, Vietnam and the Philippines as manufacturing bases. All countries pay lip service to IP rights, far fewer actually demonstrate their commitment at the highest level. But it is only when you do get the active participation of senior politicians that things tend to start moving.
The challenge for Malaysia is to get that buy-in from senior politicians. But that is not the end of it. IP rights are only meaningful if they underpin valuable products and services. To really benefit from a world class IP infrastructure, therefore, Malaysia needs innovative companies. And they are far harder to create.