Monday, February 8, 2010

Global Responsibility Licenses: A New BOP Initiative

Last year, the number of chronically hungry people in the world passed the 1 billion mark – nearly one-sixth of the world’s population. Despite life-changing advances in technology enjoyed by developed countries, real progress toward food security, clean water, and health among the very poor continues to elude those living at the so-called Bottom of the Pyramid.

A group of young social entrepreneurs comprising the World Economic Forum’s young global leaders initiative is working to change that. They’ve recently come up with a project that aims to convene business, NGOs and social advocacy organizations around new approaches to innovation and product licensing to turn this situation around.

Called the Global Responsibility License project, a group of young innovators led by James Bradfield Moody, a 25-year-old Australian engineer who is general manager of International Development for CSIRO – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Moody and his team of young WEF leaders are seeking to make intellectual property available for development uses while preserving protections for commercial uses and managing institutional risk.

“Unlocking IP across multiple technology sectors will foster innovation and kick-start the design, development and deployment of technologies,” Moody told a group of social entrepreneurs at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Combined with legal support to draw up the license’s terms so that they’re tailored specifically to the institutions and organizations involved, the GRL “has the potential to bring down barriers faced by current patent commons initiatives and foster new partnerships on a scale previously unachievable,” Moody says.

An example of what IP-sharing can do for those without, Moody says, is the Plumpy Nut, a product developed in 2006 by a British firm that took nut-based technology and added milk, glucose and micronutrients to help feel children and families in the Ethiopian highlands. Before Plumpy Nut reached that population, Moody said, only 10 percent of people were getting nourishment; after distribution of Plumpy Nut, about 70 percent were. “Our idea is to look at the patented world,” Moody says. “There are 5.6 million patents in force in the world today. They’re designed to be a temporary monopoly intended to reward innovation. Trouble is, those patents actually also prevent access sometimes to benefits for developing communities.”

Moody says there are three uses for knowledge in the world today – commercial uses, which benefit the 2 billion people in the developed world; emerging market knowledge, which aid the 3 billion people in that sector (mostly China and India), and then the “space at the bottom of the pyramid,” he says, for the 1 billion people living there. “For these people, there should be licensed humanitarian uses for this knowledge,” Moody told WEF-goers. “From a commercial perspective, there is no market for this knowledge at the bottom of the pyramid, so we’re trying to make one and get that right balance between science, business, NGOs and the donor and legal communities to make it happen.”

Moody and the Young Global Leaders have convened a working group and over the next year will report their progress to the WEF. “Our goal is to get this off the ground in the next year,” Moody says. “The people who need it the most shouldn’t be forced to wait.”

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