To Encourage Innovation, Innovators Require Protection

Over the weekend, I came across a well-argued dissertation on the patent right controversy of teff, the Ethiopian staple cereal, on an academic website.

The paper was written by a law school graduate, Beka Melkamu, from the University of Barcelona. He argues how the patent granted to the Dutch company Vennootschap Onder Firmaby the European Patent Office could be revoked, along with the legal and diplomatic measures that should be followed.

Although the paper focuses on teff, it signifies our inattentiveness toward home-grown crafts and resources including traditional clothing designs and agricultural products, and the distance we then have to travel to retrieve our right to use them. This is due to lack of protection of creative works within the country, leading us to ponder the unrealistic ambition we have to industrialise without working out the basics.

Much like many economic elements, we ignore our human and natural resources. Defective polices and impractical economic strategies have dragged the country deeper into economic chaos. Economic development initiatives do not morph into prosperity through chance, nor do successful transformation plans arbitrarily occur.

Instead, both scenarios happen through a series of meticulous and orderly planning. Purposeful and meaningful policies and actions from the government can transform the dilapidated economy of Ethiopia.

The present legal framework in Ethiopia is incomplete and lacks detail to offer strong protection to innovators. Just as importantly, the government fails to provide incentives to those that conduct research and development and haphazardly enforces already existing intellectual property rights.

The protection given to intellectual property rights is an incentive for individuals not only to continue to create but to disseminate them, diffusing that piece of technology or creative work into the public stratosphere and fetching economic gains for the nation.

Works of the mind are critical to any society for its social, cultural and economic development. Ethiopia is no exception. Innovation drives industrialisation. This is not news to any of our policymakers, but they have been incapable of transforming the economy into anything that resembles their ambitious goals.

The government is in fact so ambitious that phrases such as artificial intelligence and blockchain technology are being thrown around without even having adequately addressed mechanisation in agricultural.

We have become a country that is trying to construct a building starting from the upper storeys in the hope that the structure would stand by itself. Ethiopia has not merely failed to create a competitive labour force, a healthy economy and strong multinational companies but is unable to use its natural resources adequately.

Agriculture accounts for close to three-quarters of the labour force and agricultural products make up two-thirds of our entire export revenue. This is although other countries have become successful at adding value to the coffee we export them to make more dough out of our highest export commodity.

That Ethiopia still lacks the roasting and proper packing capacity of coffee beans is befuddling. Standing on a treasure, we beg the diaspora community and multilateral and bilateral donors to supply us with foreign currency.

Just like many things in Ethiopia, another challenge to agricultural products has to do with traceability. Buyers are often unable to find relevant and vital information regarding production and marketing processes. Whenever the question of quality arises, players up the value chain are hard-pressed to find where our commodities lie, bringing uncertainty.

Growth within the developed nations has much to do with innovation, product traceability, consumer sovereignty, efficient products and effective country and product branding. All of these require investment in terms of time, money and skill.

Strong patent laws allow inventors and producers to regain the costs of investment in research and development, and reap a profit that encourages further inventions that will affect economic growth. Ethiopia ought to strengthen its intellectual property laws, and effectively enforce them.

The lack of value-addition in coffee exports to the loss of our patent rights of teffhave crucial lessons and experiences that we should draw from. Encouraging creativity helps enhance the better functioning of commodity markets both locally and internationally. Development does not manifest itself. The country must establish efficient research and development chains to work on improving products continuously.

Globally, technology and innovations are continually improving. The advent of technologies and our understanding of them should initially focus on enhancing agricultural products to join the global market. To reach the ultimate goal of a developed economy, the country needs practical directions, effective policies and the building of our country branding.

Taking the first effective leap is worth the sacrifice. The continual betterment of citizens’ living standards depends on it. Sudden growth spurts that seem to barely resemble reality are merely that, an illusion. Transformation comes through personal initiation, persistence and patience under the right legal protection.


By Eden Sahle
Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law and lnternational economic law. She can be reached at

Published on Aug 15,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 955]



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