By Nadine Hakizimana and Edward Kwakwa, Global Challenges and Partnerships Sector, WIPO
If you think about it, intellectual property (IP) is everywhere. It’s even in Quavo, the rapper’s, lyric: “Do it for the culture, they gon’ bite like vultures”, from the song, T-Shirt by Migos. In this song, the rap trio, which includes, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, pays respect to “the culture”, that is, hip-hop culture, an important driver of black empowerment, which has become a global movement, influencing fashion, language, graffiti, breakdancing, spoken-word poetry and more. Creating music “for the culture” means pushing the boundaries of creativity by making new sounds for the enjoyment of people, everywhere. The value of community is central to this idea. Migos also refers to the unspoken disdain for “biting”, which relates to the act of repurposing samples of another artist’s work without giving credit. Contempt for “biting” flows from the value hip-hop musicians place on originality and their commitment to advancing and refining their craft. IP is all about originality – we don’t “bite.” As hip-hop fans would say, “IP is lit!”
Quavo’s lyric echoes the fundamental purpose of a balanced IP system, namely to encourage innovation and creativity to serve the interests of all people. By recognizing and rewarding creators and inventors for their work and ensuring we have access to their outputs, the global IP system helps to catapult society forward, economically, socially and culturally for all our benefit. This makes Quavo’s lyric a worthy entry point to engage with young people on how the IP system can support their ambitions.
Intellectual property is for youth
The expanding levels of interconnectivity we enjoy today are opening up exciting opportunities for creative expression, making it easy for young people to be consumers and creators of IP.
By switching on to IP, young people can find out how to safeguard their own interests and avoid infringing the rights of others. The IP system and the rights it confers enable young people (read more about WIPO Youth Program) to turn their ideas and talents into valuable economic assets. In other words, they can generate income from their ideas, and can continue devoting their time and energy to honing their talent. They can even build a business around their ingenuity and create jobs, supporting their local community and national economic growth.
Today, globally, 90 percent of business value flows from intangible assets according to financial specialists Ocean Tomo. This explains why many countries, especially developing economies, are working to boost economic growth by fostering the development of high-value knowledge-based industries. Because IP rights make it possible to protect and leverage the value of the intangible assets that underpin knowledge-based economies, IP will become ever more present in the lives of young people.
In 2021, Director General Daren Tang presented WIPO’s Medium-Term Strategic Plan (MTSP) 2022–2026 to member states, which highlights the role of youth.
“Youth will also be a focus of our attention. They are our future innovators, creators and entrepreneurs, and represent a large percentage of the population in many developing countries. We need to ensure that they understand how IP is connected and relevant to their lives and support their aspirations, whether it is to earn a livelihood through innovation and creativity, or to address global challenges.”
In February 2022, WIPO welcomed its first cohort of young professionals under the WIPO Young Experts Program. They will spend two years at WIPO’s headquarters in Geneva to broaden their IP knowledge. They will become the IP leaders of tomorrow.
WIPO also offers young IP practitioners an avenue to network with over 600 like-minded members and to benefit from training opportunities on IP and alternative dispute resolution through the WIPO ADR Young Program.
Africa is the world’s youngest continent with 70 percent of the population under the age of 25. While a huge opportunity for African countries to build a better future, it also presents significant challenges for policymakers. Spiraling levels of youth unemployment ̶ roughly 73 million of the world’s 3 billion young people are unemployed, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) ̶ as well as economic migration and the “brain drain” that comes with it, are major policy challenges with far-reaching social and economic consequences. Channeling the ingenuity and energy of young people to tackle local challenges and foster national economic growth will help create better jobs and better prospects for youth.
It’s time to unlock the youth potential
The youth of today are a rich and largely untapped source of ingenuity and creativity. Their fresh perspectives, energy, curiosity, “can do” attitude, and hunger for a better future, are already reshaping approaches and driving action for innovation and change.
Having grown up as digital natives, today’s young generations are arguably the most entrepreneurial, innovative and creative yet. Many are putting purpose before profit with ventures to tackle the big challenges of our time – climate change, access to health, food security, education, unemployment and more. But establishing a sustainable venture is a journey with many challenges. One that a sound knowledge of IP can help young people navigate by enabling them to safeguard their IP assets (i.e. their innovations and creations), leverage their value and amplify their impact.
Recognizing these challenges, WIPO is working with member states to develop national IP and innovation ecosystems that enable inventors and creators to thrive by, for example, empowering businesses to maximize their potential using IP.
Much good work is being done to ensure national IP systems and services are affordable and accessible. However, raising awareness about how IP can help young people remains a challenge. That is why the theme of this year’s World Intellectual Property Day campaign is IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future.
The campaign is an opportunity for young people everywhere to find out how IP rights can help them transform their ideas into reality, earn a living from them, create jobs and build a better future. With IP rights young people have access to some of the key tools they need to advance their goals.
WIPO recognizes that young people are key agents of change and can help solve present-day challenges and build effective global partnerships to shape our future. That is why youth engagement is now an important focus of the Organization’s work. Through our new youth engagement activities, we will draw young people into international IP debates, and show them how IP can support their endeavors to shape it into the world they want to live in.
Different rights protect different types of IP such as inventions, designs and creative works. In general, these rights serve one main purpose: to encourage more innovation and creativity by making sure that innovators and creators can gain a fair reward for their work and earn a living from it.
IP rights allow rights holders to stop other people from copying or using their IP without their permission. This means that rights holders are able to charge a reasonable price for using IP that is economically valuable. The prospect of an economic reward encourages people and businesses to invest in developing useful innovations and creations.
Most IP rights last for a limited time and can only be acquired when certain conditions are met. There are also rules that allow for the use, under certain limited circumstances, of different types of IP without first having to obtain the right holder’s permission. These arrangements help ensure that that there is a balance between the interests of innovators and creators and those of the general public, so that everyone benefits from IP.
Young creators are making a difference
Countless young people in all regions are already feeding the innovation ecosystem in remarkable ways. Take 18-year old Thato Khatlanye, from Mogwase township in Rustenburg, South Africa. She developed an innovative local solution to tackle the global challenges of energy scarcity and poverty-driven unequal access to education. Using repurposed plastic, she has created a durable school bag embedded with solar technology. It offers schoolchildren a more robust bag for their books and more importantly, access to solar-powered lighting in their homes so they can study risk-free after dark. Thato’s innovation won her the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s “biggest award for innovative young entrepreneurs.”
Two Hong Kong-based students, Sun Ming Wong, and Kin Pong Li, created a hand-sanitizing door handle, a glass tube with an integrated LED light and an outer layer coated in titanium oxide. The LED light activates a compound in titanium oxide that kills 99.8 percent of bacteria. The door handle is energy efficient, making use of kinetic power, generated from the movement of the door. Originally inspired by the SARS outbreak of the 2000s, their invention found renewed relevance in the on-going COVID-19 pandemic winning them a James Dyson Award in 2019.
Similarly, in early 2020, motivated by the urgent need to strengthen the acute-care capacity of Kenyan hospitals a group of engineering and medical students from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, built the country’s very first ventilator. It is affordable and meets international standards. They now produce around 100 ventilators every month. With the help of the Law Society of Kenya, the students filed for a patent with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute.
An incredibly gifted 8-year old named Xóchitl Guadalupe Cruz López from Mexico, invented a solar-powered water heater using recycled materials. At around USD 13 each, her so-called Warm Bath offers an affordable heating source for the resource-constrained rural community of San Cristóbal de las Casas, where she lives. The Warm Bath offers an environmentally friendly alternative to firewood, the burning of which creates serious respiratory problems for local householders. In 2018, Xóchitl became the first child to win the prestigious Reconocimiento ICN a la Mujer prize from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) for her extraordinary work.
These are just some of the myriad examples of young people stepping up to tackle the huge challenges facing their communities and our planet. We need to encourage and enable young people to use their ingenuity and creativity to build a better future. That’s why policymakers everywhere need to listen to their concerns and develop policies and programs that nurture and support them.
The challenges ahead
Progress in harnessing the huge potential of the world’s youth to build a better future, requires answers to some tough questions and effective policy responses. Why are economies unable to offer young people the opportunity to become economically active citizens? How do we enable them to live independent and creative lives that support economic and community development? How do we equip them with the knowledge and skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow?
Today, as in the past, young people are demonstrating their capacity to mobilize and galvanize support for change. Young people are moving the dial on climate action, pollution and other burning social issues from “Me Too” to “Black Lives Matter”. Young people are standing up for a better world and many are investing their time and energy in developing the cutting-edge inventions and innovations that will shape our future.
This takes us back to Quavo’s lyric and the parallel we drew with the IP system; a reminder that the IP system is designed to encourage more innovation and creativity by making sure that innovators and creators can gain a fair reward for their work and earn a living from it.
The innovative potential of the world’s young people is a largely untapped resource that can help drive the changes we need to move to a more sustainable footing. Now is the time for young people to switch on to IP and to find out how IP rights can enable them to turn their ideas into reality. Now is the time for policymakers everywhere to support young inventors and creators and ensure they have the IP knowledge and tools they need to translate their vision of the future into reality. Our future depends on it.
The young people of today are our greatest hope for a better tomorrow. As noted by American National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, in The hill we climb, which she recited at President Biden’s inauguration in 2021,“There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”