16 September 2010

Welcome to The Patent-Free Zone

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... the Patent-Free Zone
(With apologies to The Twilight Zone)

We would like to share an interesting insight into the potential uses of intellectual property in developing countries, to which our attention was recently drawn.

The "Patent-Free Zone" is the brain-child of JiNan Glasgow, a North Carolina–based patent attorney and CEO of patent analysis firm NeoPatents.  The concept, once you see it, is startlingly simple – the fact that most major companies see developing countries as insignificant markets for innovative products and services is precisely why they present unique opportunities for development and growth.  This is good news for entrepreneurs willing and able to take advantages of these opportunities, and hopefully also good news for the developing countries themselves.

Glasgow's insight is that much of the developing world comprises a largely "patent-free zone".  Because developing countries do not constitute substantial markets for products and services provided by most companies operating in advanced economies, very few of the patent applications filed in jurisdictions such as the US, Europe, Canada, Australia and so forth, are pursued in the developing world.

Developing countries are therefore "patent-free" in the sense that there are very few patents around.  Consequently, all of those published patents and applications filed in the developed countries constitute a vast library of intellectual property that has effectively been "donated" for use in the Patent-Free Zone.

Perhaps somewhat idealistically, Glasgow sees the Patent-Free Zone concept as "an initiative to spur economic development and drive corporate innovation at the same time."  However, there are too many existing examples of corruption, exploitation and abuse in third-world countries for us to be optimistic of uniformly positive outcomes.

Nonetheless, the concept is sound – to use tried and tested technologies that might not be freely-available in the developed world due to existing patent rights, to solve problems arising in the developing world.  In a best-case scenario, this could lead to accelerated economic development, and perhaps even new innovations that could be exported back to developed countries.

The Patent-Free Zone concept suggests new opportunities and business models for entrepreneurs and investors to consider.  And for those looking to establish businesses based on strong ethical principles, there may be real opportunities to do some good in parts of the developing world.

There are also obviously opportunities for businesses – such as Glasgow's NeoPatents – with strong patent searching and analysis capabilities to provide the necessary intelligence in relation to patented technologies that are available for use in the the Patent-Free Zone.

For those needing to find the Patent-Free Zone, the following map may be of assistance.  According to Glasgow's analysis, the location of the Patent-Free Zone correlates strongly with less-developed countries.
The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) rankings for 2009 – darker green corresponds with more highly developed coutries, darker red with less developed countries (image: Wikipedia).

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