Establishing IP Institutions in the Least Developed Countries (Part IV)

January 2005

Ambassador Samuel Amehou of Benin, Representative of the Global Co-ordination of LDCs at the opening ceremony of the Seoul Ministerial Conference.
Ambassador Samuel Amehou of Benin, Representative of the Global Co-ordination of LDCs at the opening ceremony of the Seoul Ministerial Conference.

This is the last in a series of four articles. The preceding articles looked at some of the challenges faced by the least developed countries (LDCs) in seeking to build effective intellectual property (IP) institutions. We conclude by focusing on assistance available to help LDCs meet these challenges. And we report from the recent LDC conference in the Republic of Korea, a developing country which has been outstandingly successful in using the IP system to promote development and wealth creation.

Korea’s example

On October 25 to 27, 2004, ministers and senior government officials from 21 of the World’s LDCs met at the Seoul Ministerial Conference, organized jointly by WIPO and the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) to exchange experiences regarding efforts to integrate IP into national development policies. The ministers declared their determination to address the problems facing their countries on IP institution building “with a renewed sense of common concern, purpose and objectives, by seeking opportunities to strengthen regional and international cooperation for using IP to promote national development”.

Setting the conference in the Republic of Korea served as a vivid reminder that establishing effective IP systems is not an end in itself, but a means to promote economic and social advancement. For government representatives from LDCs, seeing the Korean success story first hand was inspiring. Here was a country which, 50 years ago could have been termed an LDC, had that classification then existed; and which today had risen to become a world leader of innovation in electronics, cars, telecommunications and information technologies. Hi-tech Korean multinationals such as Hyundai Motor Company and Samsung Electronics, visited by the Conference participants, have won widespread trademark recognition. The Republic of Korea is now the seventh highest filer worldwide of international patent applications via the Patent Cooperation Treaty. 

Meanwhile, the average per capita GNP in LDCs remains less than one-sixth that of the Republic of Korea. That fact helped drive animated discussions at the conference of the reasons underpinning Korea’s success in building a knowledge-based infrastructure. Factors identified ranged from the foreign aid connected to its geo-strategic location, which helped kick-start development of its technology sectors, to the sheer hard work, focus and inventiveness of the Korean people. Keynote speaker Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and former Senior Vice-President of the World Bank, stressed the importance of investing in education and research, and creating centers of excellence. He recommended that a trust fund be established for technology transfer from Korea to LDCs. “If Korea can do it, so could we!” – was the message that heartened LDC participants took back to their respective governments.

Recap: Cornerstones of IP institutions
  • Appropriate legal and regulatory framework to enable the protection, enforcement and commercialization of IP, while safe-guarding the public interest;
  • Efficient, transparent organizational structures to administer the system, including streamlined agencies within a national framework; and networks linking public and private sector IP actors;
  • A trained work-force equipped with both the technical IP expertise, and the management skills to deliver results;
  • Modern communication networks, including office automation, for knowledge sharing, access to information, and dissemination of IP.


Getting help 

While highlighting the potential rewards, the Seoul Conference did not downplay the difficulties facing LDCs seeking to build IP institutions. Most LDCs lack the stable democratic structures, which would enable talent to flourish, their people to participate constructively, and IP legal systems to be administered fairly. By definition, LDCs lack the financial and technical resources to tackle the challenges unaided. But a wide range of practical and financial assistance is available. WIPO runs technical cooperation programs to assist LDCs, as do the governments and regional IP offices of many countries, including advanced developing countries such as Korea, Brazil and Singapore. Portuguese-speaking LDCs will have a particular interest in cooperation with Brazil. WIPO encourages LDCs to explore closer cooperation on knowledge transfer and institution building with, for example, Australia, Canada, China, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, as well as with private sector organizations, research institutions and universities.

Technical cooperation is an instrument to help LDC governments accelerate and facilitate the process they choose. WIPO’s commitment to technical cooperation to help LDCs build their IP institutions and systems is enshrined as a core objective in the organization’s Program and Budget document. The approach is demand-driven, and tailored to the specific needs of each country. The current, over-arching priorities were identified at the Third UN Conference on LDCs in Brussels in May 2001, when Member States agreed that WIPO’s development cooperation programs should deliver concrete results within 10 years in five key areas

  1. Information Technology (IT);
  2. Collective management of copyright and related rights;
  3. Human resource development;
  4. Genetic resources, traditional knowledge (TK) and folklore; and
  5. Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

Part III of this series described the success of the WIPONET program in delivering IP office automation, with WIPONET now installed in 28 LDCs. Part II illustrated progress in setting up collective management agencies in Malawi and Benin. These on-going projects follow the establishment of collective management societies in Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Tanzania during the previous year. WIPO’s LDCs Division is also actively engaged in exploring university industry cooperation and establishing Patent Information Centers in LDCs. The SME Division has carried out awareness programs geared to the IP-related needs of SMEs in, for example, Bhutan and Nepal. Below is an outline of human resource training available to LDC applicants at the WIPO Worldwide Academy; and an example of current cooperation on TK. 

Training people

IP institutions can only be as effective as the men and women who direct and staff them. WIPO provides human resource training to meet the growing demand from LDCs for help in acquiring the specialized knowledge and skills they need. The WIPO Worldwide Academy offers a range of skills-based courses, training seminars and professional training programs. 780 participants from LDCs registered for the distance learning, General Course on Intellectual Property in 2003 and 2004. Highest numbers last year were from Myanmar and Togo. Participants include not just IP and Government officials, but academics, students, lawyers, scientists, and businessmen. The Academy also runs joint, post-graduate Specialization Courses in IP with various universities. Candidates from Tanzania, Sudan and Zambia have been successful in obtaining Masters Degrees through these programs.

Training for public management
Earlier articles flagged the need for IP agencies, such as patent and trademark offices, to become as financially self-reliant as possible. Rigorous management is essential to make this work. LDCs can benefit from applying the principles of New Public Management (NPM). This is a concept now well established in many developed countries1, whereby the administration of government agencies is modeled on that of successful private sector businesses. It includes total transparency in cost and revenue accounting, and a single-minded results-oriented management approach, underpinned by objective-setting and performance-related pay incentives for staff.


TK: Prospecting for IP riches in Senegal

The application of IP rights to TK and folklore is still a relatively new area. But it holds real economic potential as a largely untapped national resource, in which many LDCs and their people are rich. WIPO is working with developing countries and LDCs to explore what kind of institutional frameworks would best enable them to protect and capitalize on these resources.

To this end, an in-depth study is underway in Senegal, funded by WIPO and carried out in partnership with the University of Dakar. During the initial phase of the study, researchers traveled throughout the country exploring musical elements, stories, designs, indigenous use of the medicinal properties of plants and so on. This TK is now being recorded, including evidence of the sources and origins to determine ownership. The final phase will seek to calculate its potential economic value, in other words, how much the people of Senegal could earn from their TK and folklore if their rights over its exploitation were IP-protected. 

Preparation of traditional medicine from Chlorophora Excelsa in another LDC, Uganda Photo: FAO/17512/R. Faidutti)



Funding for institution building is a perennial problem for LDCs. Governments must prioritize initiatives carefully and consider how best to leverage available resources. Key are policies designed to attract the financial resources of the domestic private sector, as well as foreign investment and international finance. 

The Seoul Ministerial Conference advocated that some existing Funds-In-Trust (FIT) agreements, in which developed or advanced-developing countries commit financial assistance for WIPO’s development cooperation activities, should be earmarked specifically for LDC needs. This includes the FIT committed by the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) in October 2004. LDCs in the Asia Pacific region have benefited from substantial Japanese financing of the WIPO FIT/Japan agreement, which has been running since 1987 to help strengthen IP systems and train IP officials in the region. A French FIT is also contributing to IP development projects, focusing on some African LDCs and Haiti.

Priority areas 

Narrowing the gap between LDCs and more developed countries is a global economic, political and ethical imperative. Moving towards a knowledge-based economy, underpinned by an effective IP system, is a means of generating wealth to help achieve this goal. IP is, in the words of WIPO Director General Kamil Idris, “a power tool for economic development that is not yet being used to optimal effect…particularly in the developing world”2.

To conclude, the following is a list of priority areas commonly highlighted by LDC government representatives in discussions with WIPO about IP institution building for economic development. These are not exhaustive, and must be adapted according to the situation in each country:

  • identify the country’s needs, capacities and constraints;
  • take measures to encourage both foreign direct investment and local production/trade, eg through market access. Attract foreign investors in strategic areas, particularly service sectors;
  • invest in training to develop a skilled, adaptable labor force, able to manage the transition to a more knowledge-based economy;
  • provide incentives for skilled workers abroad to return home;
  • invest in a dynamic telecommunications and information infrastructure; promote IT and Internet use;
  • support innovative and new technology-based enterprises, for example by establishing “incubators”;
  • facilitate global technological alliances for the country’s enterprises;
  • reform government R&D programs to stimulate participation by business and industry;
  • channel core funding to selected networks of public, private and university institutes; use technology forecasts and outside expertise to make informed choices;
  • disseminate new technologies throughout the economy;
  • set up national, sub-regional and regional technical centers to support SMEs; and
  • extend services and infrastructure to support industrial and agricultural programs in rural areas;

For the LDCs these challenges are huge. But as Ministers witnessed in Korea, so too are the rewards. Sound leadership, focused policies and hard work are prerequisites for success.


1. Reinventing Government (United States of America); Agency Initiative and Next Steps (United Kingdom); Kontraktmanagement (contract management) (Netherlands); Free Commune Principle (Scandinavian countries); Wirkungsorientierte Verwaltungsführung (result-oriented management) (Switzerland).
2. Intellectual Property, a Power Tool for Economic Growth, WIPO Publication no. 888


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