AS an outsider looking in at Malaysia, it?s exciting to see the country?s increasing commitment to competitiveness. Just as a dull knife only cuts the cook, a lax regulatory environment for business dulls economic productivity. That?s why the Malaysian government?s enhanced attention to the innovation economy is attracting the interest of foreign investors. A globally competitive intellectual property (IP) framework will put Malaysia on the cutting edge of Asia?s growing innovation economy. Already, Malaysia has positioned itself to be an innovation hub. The Global Intellectual Property Centre (GIPC) at the United States Chamber of Commerce found that Malaysia was the top performer among middle-income countries evaluated in the 3rd Edition of its International IP Index. Malaysia was placed 12th out of 30 countries measured in the index on strength of legal support for patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. That put Malaysia just behind high-income countries like Canada, and a full seven places ahead of neighbouring giant China. However, with a score of 14.62 out of a possible 30 points, Malaysia still has ample room to enhance its attractiveness to global investors. In particular, Malaysia scored 2.75 out of seven points with respect to its patent system, reflecting relative deficiencies benchmarked against international best practices. By comparison, Singapore received 6.5 of seven points in this category, bolstering its place in the global top five countries for overall IP standards. Some countries in Malaysia?s position have been tempted to lower IP standards to induce investment from the global generic pharmaceutical industry, which is perceived to benefit from weaker patent protections. However, the experience of the United States shows that this does not have to be the case. Although the US tops the GIPC Index, including in the patents category, fully 86 per cent of the US pharmaceutical market is currently supplied by generic manufacturers, based both in the country and overseas. According to the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, US patients have access to more than 1,600 generic medicines, as well as the 1,500 brand-name medicines on the market. The fundamental lesson is that nothing attracts outside investment more than a strong business climate, including a fulsome commitment to IP-supported innovation. Many generic pharmaceutical manufacturers today are bringing innovations to market and will value an environment that supports their investment in research and development. Meanwhile, there is a bigger benefit at stake for Malaysia. A strong IP system creates an environment where domestic innovators can thrive. By establishing an invention or creation as a legal asset, IP provides the infrastructure to take ideas from the mind to the marketplace, creating a pathway for great ideas to become great commercial products that benefit everyone. Without that IP-supported legal asset, it can be extremely difficult for an inventor or creator to find the financing necessary to develop their ideas. The Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) has been working hard to educate Malaysian entrepreneurs to register their intellectual property rights. Strengthening those rights will increase the benefits to entrepreneurs and speed their products to market. This is especially important for economically disadvantaged communities, who are as innovative as any other but frequently lack equal access to capital. Malaysia has an opportunity to leverage these ongoing domestic efforts through the current trade talks it has joined, along with 12 Asia-Pacific partners. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, nearing a possible conclusion after many years of negotiation, is an important opportunity for Malaysia to send the world a signal of its commitment to IP-supported innovation. A strong commitment to IP in the TPP will make Malaysia part of a global Community of First Markets, a safe haven for intellectual property where innovative industries and entrepreneurs can develop ideas and bring new products to market, benefiting business and consumers alike. These First Markets will have the best chance to attract investment from global innovative companies; the earliest access to innovative products, such as new technologies, entertainment and life-saving medicines; and, perhaps most importantly, a conducive environment for homegrown innovators to show the world all that Malaysia has to offer. In a world faced by common challenges related to hunger, energy, health and climate, it will be important to empower all of the world?s innovative minds. IP has a role to play, and by reinforcing its commitment to a strong IP system, so does Malaysia. The writer is the executive director for international IP at the US Chamber of Commerce?s Global Intellectual Property Center.
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