In the past decade alone, the rate of innovation has increased with more products released to the market than at any other time in history. The United States’ Patent Acitivity records show that in 1890, only 25 patents were filed. In 1990, there were 90,365 filings. By 2020, this grew to nearly 600,000 patents in one single year.
Contrast this with research by Ocean Tomo, a long-time purveyor of intangible assets such as intellectual property rights. It found that 90% of the value of S&P 500 companies in its portfolio in 2020 are no longer based on tangibles.
Similar trends are also reflected in Malaysia where charges for using intellectual property or IP doubled from 2012. This peaked to USD $290 million in 2021, making this the highest we have achieved to date.
The verdict is clear: There has been explosive growth in the realm of intellectual property, and with it, there is money to be made. While data is said to be the new fuel, innovation is no doubt, the new commodity.
So, how do we engage all of society to tap into this exciting narrative? One sure way is to engage women who make up about half of the world’s population. Granted, women are named in 33% of international patent applications filed via the World International Patent Organisation (WIPO). The largest gains are even in Asia. But progress to parity is slow and expected only in 2053 at the current participation rate.
Excluding women from technology comes at a devastating cost: In the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital world shaved USD $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade. That is a loss that will grow to USD $1.5 trillion by 2025 without action.
No wonder this year’s World Intellectual Property Day focused on Women and IP. It aimed to examine stronger pathways for the supply of innovation by and for women and how to include them in the system. We must realise that bringing women into technology leads to more creative solutions. Critically, these solutions directly meet the needs of society as a whole and deliver progress.
Malaysian trailblazers in this regard, include Professor Emerita Datuk Dr Asma Ismail. She is the first female President of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the first woman to be the National Science Advisor. In addition to holding 16 patents and commercialising the rapid diagnostic test for typhoid called TYPHIDOT, which is recognised as an affordable kit for many developing countries worldwide, she continues to engage and inspire younger female researchers and scientists to be changemakers through their body of work.
“The verdict is clear: There has been explosive growth in the realm of intellectual property, and with it, there is money to be made. While data is said to be the new fuel, innovation is no doubt, the new commodity.”
There is also Dr Umi Fazara Mohd Ali, whose research looks at novel materials that capture carbon dioxide from agricultural waste to reduce greenhouse gases. There is also Dr Jezamine Lim, who tipped the scales as the first female doctorate candidate in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). She was also awarded a PhD in stem cells and tissue engineering. Today, as Principal CEO of Cell Biopeutics Resources, a centralised and comprehensive hub for accessing global stem cell therapies on the market, she is regarded as a pioneer in this field in the region.
These are just a few examples of the women who have mustered their creativity and shared their ideas into viable, commercial products. We need more of such shining stars—a strong pipeline of “made in Malaysia” inventions not just for the present, but for the dynamic future. It is simple economics if we want to improve our global competitiveness.
In 2020, global patent filings through the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system reached a record of 278,100. That is the highest number ever recorded in a single year. Notably, Asia accounted for 54.7% of this total. In 2021, the National Intellectual Property Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNIPA) received 1.59 million patent applications. Tellingly, that is more than double than the number received by the United States.
Clearly, at an international level, the pace and practice on the creation, development valuation and protection of IP has picked up. The question is: Are we moving these along fast enough across critical sectors such as health and living or for underserved pockets of society?
The biopharmaceutical industry, for example, is characterised by high-risk, time-consuming, and cost-intensive processes. These include basic research, drug discovery, pre-clinical trials, three stages of human clinical trials, regulatory review, post-approval research and safety monitoring. Unfortunately, 90% of drug candidates in clinical trials are said to fail. Whether it is because they do not adequately treat the condition they are meant to target or the side effects are too strong, many drug candidates never advance to the approval stage. On average, it takes 10–15 years and around USD $1 billion to develop one successful drug.
So, in as much as we have startup fan moments with cool apps that seem to have been developed in a blink, the reality is innovators across many industries often undertake the often risky, difficult, expensive and time-consuming process of creating novel and breakthrough solutions.
Our commercialisation rate needs a booster shot. It needs a formula that includes support and incentives from governments and companies to invest in researching, developing, manufacturing and marketing solutions to bring us to commercialisation—or the crossroad where innovation meets impact.
Fortunately, with technological advancements the floodgates for greater volume, velocity and valuable innovation to be co-created and harnessed is possible. As the rate of innovation improves, products and services can become more affordable.
For whatever purpose, R&D offers us great promise—given wings.
“Are we moving these along fast enough across critical sectors such as health and living or for underserved pockets of society?”
With the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI), the premise is simple: to support mission-focused R&D, fast-tracking ideas to impact, where innovative technology matches its specific (and eventually profitable) use case -to benefit all in society. We have various programmes, infrastructure and facilities in our 686-acre innovation park to prototype and test ideas, as well as a gamut of partnerships across academia, government and corporations to accelerate “thought to thing”.
Malaysia’s National Survey of Research and Development (R&D) showed that between 2016 and 2020, more than 386 projects were commercialised, cumulatively valued at just over RM400 million.
So, what is next?
The truth is, we must up the ante. The huge number of patent filings worldwide are the result of efforts that were mooted at least five or ten years prior. Given the long gestation for patents to be filed, products to be tested and commercialised, we have no time to waste.
The time is now to realise our shared future—one of greater wealth and well-being, altogether with women in the fold.