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Biodiversity, Biotechnology and Intellectual Property: their relevance for the development of Colombia

  • 21 March 2017
  • Articles

Biotechnology has emerged as one of the most forward-looking fields of science in recent decades, and a large number of nations have set their sights on it as a long-term development pillar, given its wide range of applications and the leapfrogging of current information technology, which allows to further exploit its potential.

Biotechnology has already proven to be an option for growth in multiple economic sectors, finding applications of high importance in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, food, veterinary, cosmetic, environmental, agricultural, energy, among others, which make it an opportunity for those developing countries in search of a boost for the progress of their economies.

It is then in biotechnology that a country like Colombia, which occupies the second place after Brazil in world biodiversity, with around 10% of the fauna and flora of the planet, can find possibilities of great impact for its economic growth and technological development. However, it is not a simple challenge if one takes into account the little investment that, unfortunately, is destined for R&D in the country. For example, according to World Bank data for the year 2014, Colombia allocated about 0.2% of GDP for this purpose, an amount significantly lower than the world average of about 2%, and much lower than the number one country in this regard, South Korea, which investment in R&D is above 4% of GDP.

In this manner, the government, academics and companies must work together to transform this enormous biodiversity into a factory of knowledge and innovation that translates into solutions to both local and global problems, which in the long term will allow to narrow the economic-technological gap between Colombia and the most developed countries in the world.

Thus, in the commitment to research in general as a driving force for development, and in particular concerning the emerging biotechnology, intellectual property plays a decisive role for its progress; this is due to the fact that tools for the protection of inventions, such as patents, greatly influence the decision of companies to invest or not their capital in a particular sector, and even more in biotechnology, which is undoubtedly one of those with highest cost in both R&D and product development and process design.

Hence, it is possible to evidence in different countries a closely related upward trend between R&D spending and the filing of patent applications, making them a clear indicator of a country’s innovation and inventive step. By way of example, this is clearly visible when comparing the number of patent applications filed in Colombia and South Korea, using data provided by the World Bank in this regard for the same year mentioned above. In Colombia, in 2014, 260 patent applications were filed by residents and 1898 by non-residents; values much lower than those in South Korea where the numbers amount to 164073 patent applications filed by residents and 46219 by non-residents for the same year.

Therefore, it is necessary a vision change from the government of Colombia that promotes the injection of public and private capital in R&D, which is supported by an intellectual property system that provides adequate legal protection to the inventions and compensates the economic efforts made in innovation. Taking into account the characteristics of the country, Colombia has the potential to establish, as one of the pillars of its economy, its own biodiversity together with biotechnology; however, to this day, this latter is greatly underestimated.

In this sense, the challenge for Colombia in the coming years is to recognize and take advantage of the immense potential for scientific research that it possesses, especially in terms of biotechnology, in order to have in the future the ability to offer products and services with high standards of quality and added value, derived from a sustainable exploitation of its natural resources that goes hand in hand with policies ensuring the technical, legal and economic conditions conducive to its realization.

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Biodiversity, Biotechnology and Intellectual Property: their relevance for the development of Colombia