Most experts agree that Brazil has failed to develop a culture for protecting intellectual property. In general, the country’s population, as well as its research community, is uninformed about intellectual property. Brazil lags significantly behind other developed countries when it comes to the annual number of patent applications. “My impression is, that is because of ignorance. There is no culture for protecting intellectual property in Brazil,” says Nizete Lacerda Araújo, a researcher at the technology transfer and innovation center of the Federal University of Minas Gerais [state]. “In the absence of such a culture, there is no information about what it means to protect intellectual property – or about why or how it should be protected.”
According to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which governs patent registration in 123 countries, the U.S. was first in the number of patents registered in 2003 with 39,250 international patent applications. That was the equivalent of 35.7% of the total worldwide. Next on the rankings were Japan (16,774 patents, or 15.2%), and Germany (13,979 patents, or 12.7%).
Among developing countries, South Korea stood out, holding seventh position with 2,974 patent applications, or 2.7% of the total. Brazil, with 221 applications, had barely 0.2% of the total. This put Brazil in sixth position among emerging countries, behind South Korea, China (1,205), India (611), South Africa (376) and Singapore (313). However, Brazil was ahead of Mexico (123). These figures demonstrate that Brazil has a long road to go to be included in the “elite club” of countries that lead the world in scientific and technological development.
“Every country’s total of registered patents serves as a key indicator of its level of technological development,” says José Matias Pereira, a professor at the University of Brasilia’s graduate business school. “In recent decades, Brazilian governments have paid little attention to technology. At the end of 2002, the government of Fernando Enrique Cardoso (1995-2002) postponed plans to propose a law about technological innovation. After the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva modified the proposal, it was finally presented to the national congress. Approval is expected to have significant benefits because the bill will serve as a fundamental tool for stimulating the innovation of technology. It will help to increase the number of registered patents in Brazil.”
Nevertheless, some observers believe that the numbers are not that bad. “In national terms, 6,500 (patent applications a year) is a fairly large number, compared with other countries on a similar level of development,” says Luiz Otávio Beaklini, acting president of the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), which is responsible for registering patents and brands in Brazil.
TRIPS and Traps
Ever since 1994, when the agreement known as TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) was approved, international law about Intellectual Property has been more demanding. The Law of Brazilian Industrial Property was passed in 1996, enabling the country to comply with TRIPS.
Since then, every country has been obliged to comply with TRIPS, which requires respect for the rules of intellectual property, and an overhaul of local approaches to it. Ever since, “intellectual property started to be treated on a commercial scale, as a part of the globalized economy,” says Araújo.
When intellectual property has commercial value, investing in the protection of invention and technological innovation becomes a strategic approach to a country’s technological and scientific expansion. Thus, institutions such as INPI, along with agencies involved in integrating science and technology into productive sectors of the economy, are trying to stimulate progress throughout the country.
“This movement is only now taking its first steps,” notes Araújo. “In the Brazilian case, there is a broad expansion of public institutions involved in education and research. Many private-sector firms have yet to get involved. At the moment, the lion’s share of patent applications in the private sector comes from multinational corporations. The Brazilian entrepreneur is only now awakening to this culture. A partnership is starting to emerge between universities, the private sector, and society as a whole.”
Where can this research take place? According to data provided by Unicamp (the State University of Campinas), up to 80% of all research that takes place in developed countries around the world is done within companies. The remaining 20% takes place in academia. In Brazil, those proportions are reversed; 80% of the research takes place in universities, while only 20% occurs at companies. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, dean of Unicamp, says this pattern is harmful for Brazil, because academia is not focused on innovating technology. That involves transforming [academic] knowledge into products or productive tools. Instead, academics focus on long-term research that generates tools that can serve as a base for technological innovation; not for technologies that usually have a commercial application. Cruz believes that business should be held responsible for making innovations, because it is the companies that have the specialized resources and the interest, in economic terms.
“Generally speaking, this is the argument: If Brazil is to become a competitive player in global technology, it must devise strategies for taking [university] research projects into companies, where they can be developed. Nowadays, Brazil has a very competitive base of academic research, even by international standards. But its entrepreneurial research base is fragile, with a few exceptions,” says Cruz.
“The big challenge is to create conditions that enable Brazilian companies to hire scientists and engineers who can develop technology within companies,” says Cruz. He says the stimulus should come from government. “I’m talking about creating an environment in the Brazilian economy that is less hostile than it is today.”
Elizabeth Ritter, director of the technology transfer office at the UFRGS (the Federal University of Rio Grande del Sur state), agrees. “If we analyze the number of partners in ANPEE (The National Association of Research, Development and Engineering of Innovative Companies), it’s very small, considering the [entire] universe of companies in Brazil… The culture of [intellectual property] protection does not exist within our companies.”
An Optimistic Future
Most specialists and academics are optimistic, including Cruz. He says, “Since 1999, the government of Brazil has followed an approach that involves moving research [out of universities], and into the private sector. This is necessary and has a high-priority… I’ve noticed a positive attitude in governmental policy.” That optimism should be tempered with caution. Everything depends on the growth of the Brazilian economy. “If it starts to grow, that will create more conditions for getting these things done,” Cruz concludes.
On the other hand, some people believe Brazil needs to act more decisively to change current conditions. Pereira says, “Several studies have shown that technology plays an important role in corporate competitiveness; in the way that economic cycles progress; in the composition of international trade; and ultimately, in economic growth itself. That explains why the world’s most advanced countries spend more public-sector funds than developing countries do on strategic efforts to promote innovation in their companies… In that sense, it is important for Brazil to take urgent measures to overcome its disadvantages.”
INPI, the institution linked to Brazil’s Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, is responsible for granting trademarks and patents. Last year, it approved more than 20,000 patent applications. Of that total, almost 70% came from institutions based outside Brazil. The remaining 30% came from Brazilian companies, universities, research institutions, and individual inventors and researchers.
Currently, INPI faces serious structural obstacles. Although the size of its staff has been cut in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the volume of patent and trademark applications that its staff processes. INPI cannot handle all the applications, and it faces a huge, accumulated backlog. It can take INPI from three to six years to study a single patent application. The global average [for that process] is four years. Currently, about 45,000 patent applications to INPI have yet to be processed.
For 15 years, the Brazilian government has been reducing INPI’s staff. According to Beaklini, this process has severely damaged INPI. “Ten years ago, we had 1,050 employees, and now we have only slightly more than five hundred. Just ten years ago, we were receiving 10,000 patent applications a year; now, we have more than 20,000 [a year]… We have half the examiners processing double the number of applications. We can’t do enough, and the number of requests we shelve [for later consideration] keeps going up.”
To resolve this dilemma, “we are convincing the government to go back to the same level [of employees], except with a lot more trademark and patent examiners to deal with the higher level of demand,” Beaklini explains. “To start with, we are going to go from the 500 workers we now have, up to 1,000 [workers] within three years… Our goal is this: Within four years, we will spend an average of [only] four years to examine an application, which is quite fast.”
A key factor slowing the growth of patent registration in Brazil is the shortage of information about the importance of intellectual property protection. Given this weakness, INPI has created an informative document that clarifies the fine points of industrial intellectual property.