Interview with Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation Daren Tang

Mohamed Elkazaz, Tuesday 11 Oct 2022

Mohamed Elkazaz interviewed Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation Daren Tang

Respecting innovation


Daren Tang, director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) was in Cairo recently to take part in the launch of Egypt’s first National Intellectual Property Strategy (NIPS). During his stay he met President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to discuss Egypt’s Development Vision 2030 as well as the president’s strong support for the implementation of the Vision and National IP Strategy. Tang told Al-Ahram Weekly how IP can act as an engine for growth, catalyst for jobs and a key feature of the knowledge-based economy.


How important is intellectual property to the advancement of world economies today?

As products of the world’s oldest continuing civilisation, Egyptian ideas, inventions, and creations have shaped and influenced humankind throughout history. Your country has been an innovation powerhouse for millennia.

What is innovation? It is the process through which an idea is commercialised, creating real, on-the-ground impact. Intellectual property [IP] plays a critical role in this process by giving those who create something new — brands, designs, technologies, content — the ability to prevent others from stealing their ideas, and then the incentive and power to bring these ideas to the market.

So when an Egyptian designer like Temraza creates a new design, she can use IP to protect its designs and to ensure that the company can continue growing its business.

At the broader level, countries can use IP as a powerful catalyst to create jobs, attract investments, support entrepreneurship and drive economic and social development. This has certainly been the economic strategy pursued by an increasing number of developing countries, including India, Turkey, Vietnam and Brazil, to name a few.

As a country shifting to a knowledge-based digital economy, IP will become more and more important in Egypt. Raising awareness of IP, therefore, is fundamental. I was pleased to see that this is one of the main pillars of Egypt’s recently launched IP strategy. But raising awareness of IP is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Ultimately, we must build the culture of belief in, and respect for, innovation. We must also work to build a more inclusive IP ecosystem that better serves women, youth and small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs]. Lastly, we must connect IP to people’s everyday lives and make it relevant to everyone — moving IP out of the shadows and into the light. It is only by broadening our work and connecting it to a much wider and more diverse range of stakeholders that we will help people to see the value of IP.


Egypt launched a national strategy to protect intellectual property. How do you see the challenges which might affect its implementation?

Egypt’s IP strategy is bold, far-reaching, and comprehensive, looking at IP from a horizontal rather than a vertical perspective. This means that it will touch on the work of many different ministries, as well as stakeholders from industry, businesses, research, and other sectors. The challenge will, therefore, be one of coordination across many different stakeholders and actors.

However, I am confident that Egypt will be able to meet these challenges. The launch of the National IP Strategy by the prime minister, with many other key ministers in personal attendance, is unprecedented, and immediately sends a signal of holistic and comprehensive support.

The ancient spirit of Egyptian innovation and dynamism continues to this day with the country preparing for a new chapter of growth under the umbrella of Egypt’s Development Vision 2030. This vision of using innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology to create a knowledge-based economy and sustainable growth is very much aligned with WIPO’s desire to transform IP from a technical issue into a powerful catalyst for jobs, investments, business growth and, ultimately, economic and social development.


What was the impact of Covid-19 on intellectual property rights?

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, data collected by the World Intellectual Property Organisation shows that innovation activities continue to grow, powering ever-increasing numbers of economies and enterprises around the world.

Although the pandemic has been a great disruptor, it has also been a powerful accelerator, encouraging many companies and countries to re-imagine growth strategies. The answer is increasingly to turn to entrepreneurship, innovation, and digitalisation, areas where IP plays a critical role in success. As a result, more and more countries, including emerging economies, are looking to use IP as a powerful tool for growth and development.

For example, I recently visited Cambodia and was impressed by the country’s successful and widespread use of geographical indications to promote local artisanal products in global markets. Similarly, during a visit to Cape Verde, I observed the nation’s interest in using IP to position itself as a hub for the digital economy through the establishment of technology parks and other cross-sectoral measures. And in a meeting with CEOs of startups from Brazil earlier this year, I noted the resilience of the SME sector in a country that has fostered 26 unicorns [startups with a value of over $1 billion] in recent years.

Here in Egypt, you too are emerging from the pandemic to a transformation of the Egyptian economy. Last year, intangible assets — including IP, data and know-how — passed a symbolic milestone, accounting for more than half the value of Egypt’s top 15 firms. One example of an Egyptian company whose value is mainly in the form of IP and intangible assets is Fawry, which in 2020 became Egypt’s first unicorn.

Egypt’s startup ecosystem is now one of the most vibrant in the region, with close to 600 tech startups across the country. And last year, venture capital investment exceeded all previous records, with close to 150 deals agreed, totaling nearly $450 million, and projected to hit $1 billion in two years.

But it is not just new firms that are using intangible assets to grow. Last year, the brand value of Egypt’s top 5,000 companies rose by 150 per cent to $2.8 billion, underlining the increasingly close relationship between enterprise brand value and economic vibrancy.

The use of IP to grow a business is also increasingly a feature of Egyptian SMEs and entrepreneurs. Take the story of the fashion firm Okhtein. Formed by two sisters who grew up in Cairo, Okhtein has rapidly established itself as a chic and fashionable global label. Just four years into the company’s development, Okhtein bags are sought after and carried by discerning buyers from all over the world. As one of the sisters, Mounaz Abdel-Raouf, describes it: “Egypt and the Arab world are full of heritage, so we thought to transform this into a carriable piece of art.”


How do you see the relationship between the Internet and intellectual property rights?

The Covid-19 pandemic placed additional pressure on creative industries. Traditional revenue sources were severely disrupted and in-person events, like concerts and book fairs, disappeared. In addition, the pace of digital transformation accelerated at a time when many industry players, especially those in developing and the least developed countries, lacked the means to respond to it.

On the other hand, streaming platforms boomed during the height of the pandemic as we were stuck at home amid a fearful scourge. That created new opportunities not just for the platforms, but for creators across the globe who developed new content to entertain themselves and find new audiences. Look at what the over 50 million content creators in Egypt are doing on TikTok and other social media platforms. With just a mobile phone and a mastery of meme culture, they are making a living from videos they shoot at home or in their neighbourhoods, dancing, singing and generally mixing it up.

With Egypt being the media hub of the Arab world, enjoying the highest number of Internet users in the region and experiencing a blossoming startup scene, the Egyptian government is focused on fostering the growth of the digital economy. I saw first-hand how the government is accelerating the country’s digital transformation, investing massively in capacity building and training, digital services reforms and upgrading infrastructure.

This means massive opportunities are available in the digital economy for the country’s creators and youth culture generally. During my trip to Egypt, I was able to enjoy the country’s wonders, both ancient and contemporary, and have great hope that Egyptians will continue to draw on their rich innovative and creative heritage and harness new technologies, as you have done through thousands of years of history. WIPO stands ready to help the government, and its people, however it can, to ensure that IP plays an affirmative role in Egypt’s next period of economic and cultural growth.  


What role can innovation and the intellectual property system play in advancing global efforts to build a green future that enhances the wellbeing of people?

Innovation and technology will certainly play a major role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Our work on this has advanced over the years. Through our global technology matching platform, WIPO GREEN, we are connecting providers of climate change-related technologies with those seeking solutions. While there is no shortage of new ideas out there, their diffusion and adoption can sometimes struggle to keep pace with the scale, size and urgency of the challenge at hand.

Through WIPO GREEN’s acceleration projects, we are supporting industries such as the Indonesian palm oil sector and Latin American agriculture as we explore green opportunities and solutions. This is how IP can help address global challenges on the ground.

WIPO is also planning on launching a new knowledge resource later this year that looks at technology products and trends, with the first edition focused on climate change adaptation. We plan to unveil this new publication during the COP27 climate meeting here in Egypt later this year, so stay tuned.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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