GUEST POST: Using Intellectual Property Rights to Increase Competitiveness

By Hon. Bruce A. Lehman and Mr. Jorge H. Amigo Castañeda, International Intellectual Property Institute (IIPI)

Latin America and the Caribbean are finding trouble embracing the increasingly knowledge-based international economy. The lack of public policy on innovation and private sector reliance on foreign technology stunt the region’s growth. One need only look at patent statistics to understand the story. For example, out of the 14,055 patent applications the Mexican Institute for Industrial Property (IMPI) received in 2011, only 1,065 (7.6%) came from Mexicans. The United States accounted for over five times more (6,182 or 44.0%), and Germany totaled (1,252 or 8.9%).

But the potential is there. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) can help Latin American and Caribbean countries capture and commercialize local creations and inventions and ensure the dissemination of knowledge. With nearly 25 years of experience leading national patent offices between the two of us, we present six actions centered on IPRs that the region can take to boost competitiveness.

  • Make IPRs a Government-wide Priority: IPRs are increasingly important for economic development, yet a lack of interest in and understanding of them perpetuates. More needs to be done to educate the public, and particular attention should be paid to policymakers and government leaders.
  • Modernize National IP Offices: IP offices need to reflect the sophistication of the subject matter they deal with everyday. Efficiency and effectiveness builds trust with customers and encourages use of the IP system.
  • Seize Existing Opportunities: Although Latin America and the Caribbean trail most regions in the Global Innovation Index, this is not because the region lacks creative and innovative people. Every country has talented researchers, artists, and entrepreneurs. The key is to identify, protect, and promote these intellectual assets. IIPI, USPTO, and OAS, for example, held a series of workshops on IP concepts and business skills for indigenous artists and craftspeople from Latin American countries where the potential economic opportunities for these creators became clear. By using IPRs such trade or collective marks, for instance, a traditional artist or indigenous community can help market their goods, protect themselves from knockoffs, and preserve their cultural heritage.
  • Ask for Help: Developing an effective IPR system—and getting people to use it—is not easy. Fortunately, there are a number of governments, such as the United States, and international organizations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, that have access to resources and expertise for international IPR-based technical assistance and capacity-building programs such as those conducted by IIPI. Latin American and Caribbean governments and IPR stakeholders should not be shy about expressing their desire for assistance.
  • Foster Collaboration between Industry and Research: Although the region’s national governments tend to underfund research and development activities, each country possesses expertise in areas particularly important to it (e.g., copper in Chile, hydroelectric power in Colombia) that businesses can take advantage of. The private sector can benefit by reaching out to universities (and vice versa) to highlight the need for innovations in particular fields or to address specific issues.

Following these suggestions will not lead to overnight success. Changing attitudes and building capacity requires patience and dedication. The earlier Latin America and the Caribbean take IPRs seriously, however, the sooner they will see the economic benefits that come with their protection.

This piece was originally prepared for the OAS Signals of Competitiveness Report of the Americas 2012. To view the full report, please click here.

About the authors: Hon. Bruce A. Lehman is the Chairman and President of IIPI. He served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks under President Clinton. Mr. Jorge H. Amigo Castañeda is IIPI’s Vice-Chairman. He served as Director-General of the Mexican Institute for Industrial Property (IMPI) from 1994-2011.

About IIPI: Founded by Hon. Bruce A. Lehman in 1998, IIPI is a nonprofit international development organization and think thank devoted to helping developing countries use IPRs to create jobs and increase competitiveness. For more information visit

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