[Afro Leo, Afro-IP blog, Link (CC-BY)] Last week WIPO, Cornell University, INSEAD and their knowledge partners published their annual Global Innovation Index GII 2017. This index is a global benchmarking tool for determining the state of innovation on the globe. Its premise is that innovation is the key driver for economic growth and general prosperity.

The GII is notable because it far more than a measure of R&D or levels of patenting. It covers and uses data from:

  • 127 country/economy profiles, including data, ranks, and strengths and weaknesses
  • 81 data tables for indicators from over 30 international public and private sources, of which 57 are hard data, 19 composite indicators, and 5 survey questions
  • A transparent and replicable computation methodology including 90% confidence intervals for each index ranking (GII, output and input sub-indices) and an analysis of factors affecting year-on-year changes in rankings.

Intellectual property and innovation are linked. There is continuous debate on how strong and/or appropriate that link is but the fact is that they are connected.

Africa is a large dark blob on the GII short video on global innovation hotspots in their press release. It is not alone, according to the GII more than half of the world’s innovators exist in only 30 innovation hotspots across the globe. The usual feature – cities on the west and east coast of the USA, Central and Western Europe and in Asia. GII recognises that innovation is everywhere but thrives in these areas,

None of those hotspots exist in the southern hemisphere. Perhaps this is easily explained by the fact that the southern hemisphere has been relatively slow to adopt the patent system or contains few tax havens (indeed often having protectionist regimes considered a disincentive to FDI based innovation), and hence would not feature. However, one just has to consider the geographical origin of the most innovative and largest value companies in the world to realise the direct correlation between the origin of those companies and the innovation hotspots. Indeed, the GII report indicates a very strong link between business value and the results of patent data mapping undertaken by the publishers

There is some indication that Africa has opportunities. As the world’s population grows, innovation in the agricultural industry – a large staple of Africa economies – is tipped to be the most important over the coming decades. The relevance of such innovation is a major focus of the GII.

Over the next decades, the agriculture and food sector will face an enormous rise in global demand and increased competition for limited natural resources. In addition, it will need to adapt to and help mitigate climate change. Innovation is key to sustaining the productivity growth required to meet this rising demand and to helping enhance the networks that integrate the sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management known as food systems.”

The question is whether Africa has the nous, character and leadership to take advantage of this reality. Put differently, will corruption, poor leadership, naivety, and short termism long associated with Africa make it vulnerable such that its societies do not benefit as much as they could. After all, this has happened over the centuries and there is evidence of it happening again. A different question is whether those who employ the innovators of the hotspots will have learnt from mistakes made in the past and collaborate differently with Africa. This too is a leadership question.

The GII recognises a number of what it calls Innovation Achievers – a term used for low income countries whose rate of innovation outpaces its relative growth in development. A number of African countries score high on this ranking. Indeed, 9 of the 17 countries in this category come from Sub Saharan Africa. Take a visit to Rwanda, for example, and this is clear to anyone. A company can be registered in a day and trade marks are registered well within a year. The first two destinations of its A380 aircraft investments are India and China and its skyline boasts increasing numbers of foreign law firms. The other 8 countries are Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi, Madagascar, Senegal, Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The positive results from Sub Saharan Africa are despite rating falls in the top three. South Africa becomes  the highest ranked on the index at 57 (falling from 54), followed by Mauritius (64, falling from 53) and Kenya (81 falling from 80). According to the report:

Preserving and building upon this innovation momentum in Sub-Saharan Africa is now key.” 

Touché. How, will be very important too.