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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

A patented approach to staying competitive

It’s impossible to overstate what the development and protection of intellectual property can accomplish

The UAE stands at just 68th in patents filed per capita in an index conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Getty Images
The UAE stands at just 68th in patents filed per capita in an index conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Getty Images

Businesses drive innovation. We do so through the people we hire and train, the machines and processes we use, and the products and services we offer. But are we delivering innovation through strong ideas? Are we developing new solutions that propel our businesses forward?

The numbers speak for themselves. Against 128 countries, the UAE stands at just 68th for patents filed per capita in an index conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and ranks 25th globally in terms of innovation in a report by the World Economic Forum. The report states that it is “crucial” for the UAE to better leverage digital technologies that enable business innovation if it wishes to rank among the top world economies.

As we strive to achieve the goals of UAE Vision 2021, the need to create and nurture new solutions increases exponentially. Luckily companies can ensure they reap the rewards of their effort by using patents. As protectors of our intellectual property, patents can help us transform our ideas into business success.

It’s impossible to overstate what the development and protection of intellectual property can accomplish. For one, in economies with strong patent systems, higher technology products go to market. That’s because companies that operate in a country with a verifiable patent law feel their inventions are secure, and therefore spend more on research and development (R&D) than companies with no access to patents. An influx of homegrown, progressive technologies would encourage our businesses and our economy to grow at a faster speed and with greater efficiency.

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However, new innovations and ideas aren’t just plucked out of thin air. In many cases they are inspired by an existing intellectual property. Eighty-eight per cent of businesses in the United States, Europe and Japan report that their own R&D is often influenced by existing patents.

UAE’s private sector needs to concentrate resources on R&D and patents. Not only can we enhance creativity in our own businesses, but we can also contribute to the competitiveness of the overall economy.

First, we have to understand the system. In the UAE, the private sector has the tools to develop its own intellectual property. While some areas are still under development, the UAE patent system is characterised by a strong framework that provides basic, sector-specific protection for ideas. There are also active government initiatives, including Takamul, that provide support for companies and individuals who seek to file patents.

Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) has worked closely with Takamul on several projects. We have focused on innovation for over 25 years and have used our own technology for every expansion of our smelters since the 1990s.

Last year, EGA became the first UAE industrial company to license its own large-scale industrial technology internationally.

Second, we need to invest in the innovators – teams that can deliver scientific advances, and in turn, economic performance.

At EGA we have a dedicated technology development and transfer group that coordinates research and acts as a knowledge bank. It is staffed by a team of about 40 people.

In short, we have a dedicated team of technologists to make our technology ever more competitive and generate revenue from licensing it.

With that revenue, we contribute to the knowledge-based industries and services that make up a greater proportion of the GDP than oil revenues. This broad segment has grown from 32.1 per cent in 2001 to 37.5 per cent in 2012. The patents submitted cover commercial-scale projects, ranging from carbon capture, usage and storage to off-shore wind farms to vehicle navigation systems for people with special needs.

Clearly the foundation exists for more companies to develop intellectual property in the UAE.

A company’s livelihood is the quality of its products and services. Patents are fundamental to the system of innovation that maintains competitiveness. By leveraging the UAE patent system, more businesses can commit to the continuous improvement of products and services, and in turn, elevate the value of ideas and information in the UAE.

For some it is a daunting task, but it’s one we are more than capable of playing.

Abdalla Al Zarooni is vice president of technology development and transfer at Emirates Global Aluminium