Belarus strengthens its IP system to promote innovation and economic growth
By Uladzimir Rabavolau, Director General of the National Center of Intellectual Property of the Republic of Belarus
Like other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, over the last two decades, Belarus has focused its efforts on transitioning to a knowledge-based economy. To this end, the Government has been supporting the development of an innovation ecosystem that supports business growth and the country’s long-term economic sustainability. Enhancing the national intellectual property (IP) system is central to this endeavor.
National IP policy implementation: key actors
The task of developing a national IP policy is the responsibility of the State Committee on Science and Technology (SCST). The practical implementation of that strategy and the delivery of IP services for both industrial property and copyright falls to the National Center of Intellectual Property (NCIP). The NCIP, which reports to the SCST, ensures that IP supports the development of science, technology and innovation within the public sector and industry, including the creative industries. Its work bolsters efforts to modernize the economy and make it more competitive internationally. Other entities that ensure the national IP system functions effectively are the Judicial Board for Intellectual Property Cases of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus, the Republican Library on Science and Technology (RLST), the Belarusian Society of Inventors and Innovators, as well as patent attorneys, appraisers of IP objects and other IP professionals. The task of enforcing IP laws lies with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Customs Committee, which are responsible for putting into place effective measures, such as anti-counterfeiting measures and criminal sanctions to discourage and prevent IP infringement. The State Customs Committee also manages the National Customs Register for IP objects, which facilitates verification of the authenticity of goods as well as the process of seizing infringing products.
The modernization of Belarus’ IP system is guided by the national IP strategy, developed in cooperation with WIPO. The strategy supports key national objectives to boost economic performance, promote the development of high-tech industries, strengthen the country’s export potential and competitiveness, attract foreign investment and generally boost national socio-economic development. It covers a range of areas, including development of the national IP legislative and regulatory framework, a national IP infrastructure and a national IP management system. For example, NCIP is in the process of integrating WIPO’s customizable Intellectual Property Automation System (IPAS) to improve the efficiency of its trademark operations and, in particular, to reduce processing times for trademark applications. NCIP is also implementing the ePCT system, WIPO’s online portal for managing international applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which covers over 150 markets. These initiatives will enable NCIP to generate efficiency gains and improve the quality of its services. Other objectives outlined in the IP strategy relate to the improvement of IP protection standards, patent information and IP education, as well as measures to tackle IP infringement; these are all important factors in establishing an effective innovation ecosystem.
Boosting Belarus’ international IP profile
The Government of Belarus is actively working to ensure that the national IP legal and regulatory frameworks meet international standards and help improve the country’s international competitiveness.
Belarus is currently party to 17 WIPO-administered treaties, including the Patent Law Treaty, which it joined in 2016. The Government plans to join two additional WIPO treaties in the near future. The first is the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. This will help those who live with visual impairment or who are blind to access the published works they need in the formats they require. The second is the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, which will make it easier for Belarusian designers to protect their work in international markets.
Leveraging the capacity of Belarussian inventors to develop cutting-edge innovations by supporting the development of a thriving national innovation ecosystem underpinned by a robust, efficient and cost-effective IP system is a top priority for Belarus.
Belarus has also signed up to the Agreement on Collective Management of Copyright and Related Rights of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). That agreement entered into force in May 2019, and will help ensure that the necessary institutional structures and mechanisms are in place for creators to receive the royalties due to them. This development is part of the Government’s drive to strengthen the creative economy and to protect and enforce authors’ IP rights.
In a move to upgrade its collective management service, NCIP recently began implementing WIPO Connect, which will enable it to streamline its local operations and facilitate connections with regional and international networks to ensure that royalty payments are re-distributed to creators. NCIP’s collective management service represents the interests of more than 1 million authors from 40 countries. In 2018, it collected around USD 2.9 million in royalties on their behalf.
Recent developments in national IP plan
Belarus has six laws that regulate IP rights. These laws are reviewed and improved periodically to ensure they keep pace with technological developments and are in line with international IP standards. Recently, legislators revised and updated national laws on patents, utility models, industrial designs, trademarks and service marks and the protection of topographies of integrated circuits. Parliament is currently considering a revised draft law on geographical indications and a new law on copyright and related rights will enter into force soon. Numerous IP-related by-laws are also subject to periodic review and improvement. Fifty such by-laws were updated in 2018 alone.
To encourage greater use of the IP system by businesses, NCIP continues to look for new ways to make its services more user-friendly and affordable. Patent fees are revised periodically. Since January 2019, accredited scientific institutions have benefitted from a 75 percent reduction in patent fees. The aim here is to encourage these research-based entities to actively protect and commercialize their results and to foster business growth through university spin-offs and startups.
IP filing and registration rates on the rise
Increases in IP filing and registration rates in Belarus over the past two years suggest that the Government’s ambitious and intensive legislative reform program in the field of IP is bearing fruit. Trademark applications, by far the most dynamic area of IP activity in Belarus, rose from 8,248 in 2017, to 8,338 in 2018, with trademark registrations rising by around 3 percent, from 6,813 to 7,051 in the same period. Filing activity for patents and industrial designs also increased.
IP transactions are also on the rise. In 2018, NCIP registered 688 IP agreements, of which more than half (354 in total) were time-limited licensing agreements. In addition, NCIP recorded an annual increase in the number of agreements relating to the permanent transfer of rights in relation to IP protected products. Franchising agreements are also increasing. Such agreements, of which 93 were registered in 2018, demonstrate the presence of global brands in the country and are an indicator of the Government’s success in attracting inward flows of foreign investment.
Similarly, national statistics show an increase in the level of IP service-related exports and revenues. Between 2015 and 2018, such exports tripled, generating around USD 66 million for the national economy.
With a view to strengthening the links between academia and business, promoting the commercialization of research results, and stimulating business growth, the Government has established ten technology parks in cities across Belarus. The Hi-Tech Park (HTP) in Minsk, for example, which is now recognized worldwide for its technical expertise, was established to develop the country’s digital economy. Over 560 companies operate out of the park, including companies like Viber Media, producer of the leading Viber app, which counts over 460 million registered users. Other award-winning startups at HTP include Teslasuit, which has developed a full-body haptic suit that creates a realistic interface between the user and the digital world and a more immersive virtual and augmented reality experience. Teslasuit won the prestigious Red Dot Award for the Best Revolutionary Design earlier this year.
Other HTP residents are focused on developing applications around cutting-edge artificial intelligence-based solutions. Banuba Development, for example, is a computer vision-centric startup that uses artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision and other machine learning technologies to create camera-based apps around its core computer vision technology. Another highly successful resident, Synesis, is a world leader in developing intelligence video surveillance systems for public safety and other AI-based technology solutions, including for game applications. More than 100 million people around the world use its technology solutions every day.
The software applications created at HTP are used by some 1 billion people across the globe. This generates sizeable export revenues for the country.
Boosting IP education and public awareness of IP
IP education has been another important focus of NCIP’s work. Recognizing the central importance of IP education to a thriving innovation ecosystem, in 2004, NCIP set up its Training Center for Intellectual Property. The Center provides professional development opportunities for legal professionals, businesses and researchers, including residents of the technology parks mentioned above, and more. Every year, more than 100 professionals benefit from the Center’s training programs, which cover topics ranging from IP rights management to the drafting and filing of IP applications. The Center also provides tailored training programs for trainee patent attorneys and examiners.
Cultivating broad awareness of the benefits that can flow from the strategic use of IP rights, in terms of employment, business growth and economic performance, is yet another important factor in establishing an effective national IP system. Thanks to the efforts of the country’s IP authorities, including the organization of activities to mark the annual World Intellectual Property Day campaign, public awareness of the potential of IP to support social and economic development is increasing. In a move to bolster understanding of the relevance of IP to businesses, the NCIP recently rolled out its online Intellectual Property Exchange. A platform for inventors to showcase their inventions and for businesses to learn about associated IP licensing opportunities, the Exchange is helping to boost the market for IP assets in Belarus. By the end of 2018, the Exchange had over 670 inventions on its register.
Cooperation with WIPO
Belarus has been a member of WIPO since the Organization began operations in 1970 and remains actively engaged in its work. Over the past five decades, WIPO and Belarus have established a solid basis for cooperation in developing the national IP system and in promoting the strategic use of IP for the country’s economic development. This longstanding and fruitful relationship received new impetus in June this year, when the government signed a wide–ranging cooperation agreement with WIPO. The agreement covers a variety of activities including:
- Developing a national IP strategy up to 2030;
- Encouraging the implementation of IP strategies by universities;
- Expanding the network of Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs) in Belarus to help local inventors create, protect and manage their IP rights and realize the economic potential of their innovations;
- Improving patent quality;
- Promoting the commercialization of IP assets; and
- Developing arbitration and mediation services to support the cost-effective and rapid resolution of IP-related disputes.
Leveraging the capacity of Belarussian inventors to develop cutting-edge innovations by supporting the development of a thriving national innovation ecosystem bolstered by a robust, efficient and cost-effective IP system is a top priority for Belarus. With support from the highest levels of government, the commitment of the national IP authorities to promote IP and innovation, and the country’s deep pool of innovative and creative talent, the future of innovation looks very bright in Belarus.
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