Opposition calls for urgent review of Patent Act

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, May 26, 2018

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OPPOSITION spokesman on science and technology Julian Robinson has called on the Government to review and update legislation governing patents in Jamaica, saying innovators are losing out in areas where their counterparts in the region have been able to monetise their ideas.

A modern Patent Act is a crucial tool to monetising the application of ideas, said Robinson. “While we are seeking to develop our scientific activity we will not realise the economic benefit from it unless we strengthen the mechanisms for examining and issuing patents, and develop the expertise within the legal system to litigate the defence of patents issued. These systems raise confidence in the system and increase the chances of attracting investment,” Robinson stated in his 2018/19 sectoral debate presentation in the House of Representatives this week.

Successive governments have for years promised to overhaul the Patent Act.

A patent is a grant to an inventor in the use of an invention, which excludes others from making, using or selling the invention within the grant country for a specified period of time without the permission of the inventor.

The Opposition spokesman argued that although the Patent Act of 1957 still nominally provides protection in Jamaica for the exclusive right to exploit intellectual property in inventions, failure to modernise the legislation has major repercussions for innovators and the country as a whole.

He pointed to the nominal fees for patent applications and maintenance specified in the Act, which have not moved with changes in the value of the Jamaican currency over the years, and therefore cannot support the operations of the patenting process. This, he noted, includes the fees of patent examiners, which is a highly specialised job. As set out in the Act, the petition fee to apply for a patent is $15.

Robinson said patent management is costing the Government more to administer than it earns. “This is one way that any patent activity in Jamaica fails to have any significant macro-economic impact,” he remarked.

He noted that, with a few exceptions, patent protection for an invention is limited to the jurisdiction of the country issuing the patent, and patent protection must be sought simultaneously. “This means that a company seeking patent protection for a potentially valuable invention must choose which markets to pursue patent protection in at the outset,” he explained.

However, he said the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)-sponsored Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) facilitates the process of examining a patent in a way that does not jeopardise its validity in other countries.

He stressed that because Jamaica is not a signatory to the PCT, local inventors cannot take advantage of this filing system, and this has led to low innovation measurements in Jamaica, making it more difficult to attract investors.

“Under the PCT, a patent can be examined under a kind of one-stop-shop system that reduces the cost of examination and filing in several countries. In fact, in some instances, Jamaicans actually go to Trinidad (a signatory to the PCT) to file a patent application in order to take advantage of the availability of the PCT system,” Robinson said. He noted that the proposed revised bill would embrace the PCT system.

Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) has in recent years lamented the long painstaking processes that innovators have to undergo under the archaic Patent Act, which it said, if updated, would lead to more advancement in local scientific innovations. Examiner for the Patent Directorate at JIPO Tracy Herdsman told the Jamaica Observer at a Monday Exchange in 2016 that unlike other intellectual property rights such as trademark and copyright, patenting is a process which is highly technical, misunderstood and complicated.

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