Importance of innovating
A Sri Lankan perspective:
The expenditure on research and development is
one of the main indicators to identify a country's support for
innovations and creations. In Sri Lanka, Gross Expenditure on Research
and Development (GERD) as a percentage of the GDP was 0.16 % in 2010.
This year the world celebrated its 15th Intellectual Property (IP)
Day on April 26. Since 2001, the World IP day has focused on how IP
contributes to innovations and creations, which ultimately help shape
Moreover, the day provides an opportunity to encourage people to
think about the role played by IP in their day-to-day lives and its
importance in stimulating a country's economic growth and well-being. In
the process of development, the human mind and innovations play a
significant role. Thus, every country recognises the importance of
encouraging innovations and creations and simultaneously protects the
intellects of its people. Sri Lanka too has introduced a number of
policies and programs to drive innovation and foster creations while
However, Sri Lanka is still far behind in the number of innovative
outputs and in creating a strong protection mechanism for inventions.
Sri Lanka at a glance
There are several indicators to measure the level of innovation and
creativity within a country.
The expenditure on research and development is one of the main
indicators to identify a country's support for innovations and
creations. In Sri Lanka, Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD)
as a percentage of the GDP was 0.16 % in 2010. This was a 30% increase
from 0.11% recorded in 2008.
The public sector contributes the most towards Research and
Development (R&D) in Sri Lanka (nearly 56%). In most developing
countries, the public sector provides a higher percentage of a country's
total investments in R&D. Public investment is essential in R&D as
markets fail due to difficulty in assuring profits for investors.
However, most developed countries have overcome the issue of private
investments in R&D by providing effective protection via strong
Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) systems.
In Sri Lanka, GERD is high in agriculture sciences (33.1 %) followed
by R&D expenditure in engineering and technology (20.2%), natural
sciences (12.1%), social sciences and humanities (6.6%).
A majority of the R&D expenditure in the agricultural sector is spent
on crop production, soil science and variety improvement. In terms of
commodities, a greater share of R&D was allocated to rice, plantation
crops, fruits and vegetables in 2010.
The most common and formal methods in protecting innovations and
intellectual property rights in Sri Lanka are trademarks followed by
patents and copyrights. A high number of patents is issued for food and
beverage process technology, innovations in IT and telecommunications,
and agricultural system and developments.
Trademarks are popular in Sri Lanka as several enterprises and
products enter the market daily and trademarks differentiate the goods
and services sold by them.
The Global Innovation Index 2014 (GII) has ranked Sri Lanka at 105
out of 143 countries. According to the GII rankings, when compared to
other South Asian countries, Sri Lanka is placed third, after India
(76th) and Bhutan (86th), Bangladesh (129th) and Pakistan (134th) are
ranked much lower.
Switzerland, United Kingdom and Sweden are ranked on top while
Singapore and China are ranked 7th and 10th. R&D expenditure in Sri
Lanka is low compared to some selected countries in Asia.
Developed countries spend more than 2% of their GDP on R&D. The GERD
benchmark figure for developing countries is 1% and Sri Lanka
significantly falls short of this figure.
What needs to be done
Sri Lanka has seen an increase in R&D expenditure since 2008. This
has resulted in a significant increase in the country's innovation
However, when compared to other developing countries such as China,
Malaysia, Thailand, and India Sri Lanka is lagging behind in the number
of innovations and protection of innovations.
There are several policies and programs introduced by several
ministries to improve innovations in Sri Lanka.
The National Biotechnology Policy, Science, Technology and Innovation
Strategy for Sri Lanka 2011-2015 are among such policies and programs.
However, the effective implementation of these remains questionable.
The link between the ministry, institutes and universities on
research, science and technology is weak. This was highlighted in a
recent report on 'Integrating Intellectual Property into Innovation
Policy Formulation in Sri Lanka' by the National Intellectual Property
Office - Sri Lanka.
The policies and programs are implemented by different institutes and
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to improve coordination between
research, science and technology institutions. A separate institute may
help to better formulate, monitor, manage and coordinate innovation
policies and programs in the country.
Simultaneously, it is vital to motivate private sector investments in
R&D by way of introducing tax deductions and low tax rates, better
investment climate and strong IPRs system. An innovation voucher system
can be introduced to enhance collaboration between research institutes
and the industry. Introducing a reward system to inventors will be
another effective means to encourage innovations.
The Intellectual Property Act No. 36 of 2003 is the legal framework
under which IPRs are protected in Sri Lanka.
It provides protection via patents, copyrights, industrial designs
and trademarks. Sri Lanka is a party to a number of international IPR
treaties and agreements.
However, Sri Lanka to-date has been unable to implement a proper
mechanism to protect new plant varieties and rights of plant breeders,
which is very important in enhancing innovations in the agricultural
Moreover, the country is still unable to introduce utility model
patents, which are cheaper, and have a simple and faster registration
process than patents.
First, it is important to ensure an effective implementation of the
IP Act. Second, it is imperative to implement the proposed Act of 2011
on new plant varieties (breeder's rights).
Third, it is a timely need to prepare a strong and a proper
protection mechanism for animals and microorganism. It is also
imperative to introduce a national policy for innovations in Sri Lanka.
It is essential to increase awareness among the public on the
importance of creativity and innovations towards a country's economic
growth while protecting third party inventions.
Public awareness could be improved through the Ministry of Science
and Technology, Intellectual Property Office and other related
It is vital to increase awareness of the importance of protecting
inventions among researchers, universities and scientists.
The writer is a Research Officer at the Institute of Policy Studies
of Sri Lanka.