Far from being incongruous, innovation and the property rights that secure it are key enablers toward meeting global health challenges. In fact, throughout the developing world, stronger intellectual property rights are proving foundational to unlocking latent innovation potential within entrepreneurs and diverse biological ecosystems.
On April 24, 2018, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) with the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) held a panel at the Meridian International Center. The event marked the release of a new report that documents 25 cases of entrepreneurs—primarily in the developing world—meeting global health challenges by “innovating for health.”
Stephen Ezell, Vice President of Global Innovation Policy at ITIF and co-author of the report, moderated the event, with speakers representing a variety of experiences. Panelists discussed the policies—particularly relating to intellectual property—needed to underpin successful life sciences innovation in both the developed and developing world.
Mark Schultz, co-author of the report and senior scholar and director of academic programs at CPIP, began with a short presentation of some of the report’s case studies. Schultz noted that while many perceive innovation to only happen in wealthy countries or by influential companies, that is not always the case. According to him, new technologies are being developed and deployed on the ground throughout the world.
One of the world’s biggest challenges to health care is a lack of access, particularly for people in remote or rural areas. Some countries do not have adequate medical technologies or expertise—for example, Ethiopia only has one center for radiation. Because of situations like this, innovators have stepped up to find solutions. For example, vaccines must be kept cool in order to be effective. While that is an easy enough task in the United States, for more remote, warm climates, it can mean life or death. As a response to this problem, Arktek, with help from Bill Gates, has developed a hyper-insulated container that can chill vaccines for 30 to 60 days. Innovations like Arktek’s insulated carrier isn’t only limited to the developing countries they are created for; rather, according to Schultz, innovation flows both ways.
Ezell spoke next on the policy implications of the study. First, he shared some thoughts from Eddy Agbo, founder and CEO at Fyodor Biotechnologies. Agbo developed a $2 malaria test that does not need a medical professional to administer, which would allow thousands more to access potentially life-saving care. Agbo believes that contrary to what some may believe, intellectual property rights and patents do not lead to expensive health care, specifically citing his malaria test as an example.
Ezell outlined the report’s findings on intellectual property rights. First, intellectual property rights create incentives for innovation. Second, they enable entrepreneurs to focus on innovating, rather than protecting their creations. Third, intellectual property rights serve as validators that help entrepreneurs secure financing. Fourth, they induce knowledge spillovers that help others innovate. Fifth, intellectual property rights boost domestic levels of exports, research and development, and foreign direct investment. Overall, intellectual property protections can greatly benefit society and the economy for both developing and developed nations.
Following Ezell and Schultz’s remarks, the panelists each introduced themselves and their organizations. To begin, Sathya Elumalai spoke on his business Multisensor Diagnostics, where he is currently co-founder and CEO. After seeing his mother struggle with multiple medical tests, such as blood pressure monitoring, he saw the need for a more streamlined, simple system. He created a non-invasive handheld device that can quickly assess key vitals at once—temperature, blood oxygen levels, breathing rate and pattern, pulse rate, ECG, blood pressure, and lung functions. Ultimately, a small device such as the MouthLab could be used around the world for crucial check-ups. Elumalai encouraged continued support for innovators and entrepreneurs.
Next, Aadli Abdul-Kareem, managing partner and co-founder of Electronic Health Network, Inc., spoke on the infrastructure side of the health care sector. Electronic Health Network is a health IT company, and Abdul-Kareem spoke about the logistics of moving its services into somewhere like Africa. In order to do so, the country needs to approve of the operation. Once that hurdle is cleared, Electronic Health Network will need to arrange technology and financial partners, as well as consulting services. Once a “dream team” is assembled, then true innovation can take place.
Third, Patrick Kilbride, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center, spoke about intellectual property rights. According to him, there are two innovation equations. This first is Innovation + Intellectual Property = Cost, meaning that someone is rewarded for innovating with intellectual property that then costs others. The second is Intellectual Property + Investment = Innovation, meaning that strong intellectual property law enables investment which leads to innovation. He generally prefers the second equation. According to him, one thing is clear: Intellectual property is an investment, not a cost. Thus, governments should invest in intellectual property systems so that innovative products and technologies are more readily available.
In conclusion, Ezell’s quote on intellectual property rights sums up the event most succinctly: “The human mind, with its vast capacity for ingenuity, is the one resource that exists everywhere. Intellectual property, far from being an impediment, plays a vital role toward helping solve global health challenges.”