'Encouraging innovation' is easier said than done. But an Abu Dhabi programme has found one specific way to move ahead, by helping with patent applications. It's a very good step.
Innovation needed on patent process
The notion that everyone should "encourage innovation" ranks high on every country's list of good ideas, worthwhile goals and earnest plans. In both the high-tech present and the "knowledge economy" future, everyone understands the value of scientific and engineering innovation.
Too often, however, the chasm between intention and reality proves dauntingly wide and deep, so that "encouraging innovation" remains a buzzword and little more.
And then there's Takamul, which in its first year has produced solid measurable results, in the form of an increase in patent applications from Abu Dhabi, and is now ready to expand. Takamul is itself the kind of innovation that we need.
The Technology Development Committee of the Abu Dhabi Government has chosen the Arabic word for the mathematical concept of integration as the name of this new programme. The idea is that all parts of the process of technological innovation, from concept to product roll-out, need to work with minimal friction. Takamul began with a truly practical matter: getting patent protection for a new idea.
A record 900,000 patents were awarded worldwide in 2010, 25 per cent of them in the US and 20 per cent in China. But everywhere the process has its problems. In the US, it usually takes almost three years to be declared proprietor of an idea; ideas languish in bureaucratic uncertainty for longer in many places, including this country.
Patent reform has itself become a buzzword in many places. The US streamlined its process with a new patent law signed last autumn, but changes will take effect slowly. Around the world the vital work of patent offices is slowed by the essential effort to winnow out spurious, fraudulent and nonsensical applications. Globally, the patent process could use some innovation itself.
Takamul cannot solve all that. What it has done, however, is elegantly simple. The process of winning a patent can cost Dh70,000; Takamul will pay as much as 90 per cent of that for local inventors. This programme was certainly a factor in Abu Dhabi's jump from one US-approved patent in 2010 to 13 last year. There is evidently still a long way to go and much bureaucracy to hack through or go around. But Takamul has made a real contribution already, and has plans for more.