Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

H.E. Ambassador Dr. Walter Werner
257.   Switzerland would like to thank Singapore for proposing and introducing this TRIPS Council agenda item. We are pleased to co-sponsor both the agenda item and submission IP/C/W/652. 258.   We welcome the opportunity to exchange national experiences and hear about different approaches in the highly relevant area of public-private collaboration in innovation. 259.   The question is: How can the public and private sectors interact to establish an innovative environment? The role of intellectual property rights is of particular importance to this kind of collaboration: A well-regulated and balanced distribution of rights and obligations significantly enhances cooperation and innovation. The aim is to ensure that public sector research complements rather than substitutes private sector research. Such collaboration should result in an enhancement of the social value of IP and the patent: innovation and technology are developed into marketable and socially useful products. 260.   My delegation would like to present how Switzerland establishes interfaces between the public and private sector and point out the role that intellectual property plays in this collaboration for the development of new products and services. 261.   The Swiss Constitution instructs the Confederation to promote innovation. It is for the federal authorities and the parliament to put in place the legal framework, without taking control over the direction of research chosen by private actors. Federal bodies may support start-ups with advice, to a limited extent with seed-funding, or may make available certain infrastructure which can facilitate young entrepreneurs' activities and endeavours, for example in the form of technology parks. 262.   Platforms of public-private collaboration facilitate the exchange of knowledge and generate synergies. They enable innovation and access to technology across the society. Technology is transferred from academia and researchers to applied research and industry and from there to the consumers. Building the bridge between basic and applied research, public-private partnerships enable social and economic investment in R&D and allow for economic growth. 263.   In the following, I will present two types of public-private cooperation practiced in Switzerland. The first type of partnership arises when a private actor has a patentable invention but lacks the means to develop the idea into a marketable product. This is where the public sector can come in as a facilitator. Let me illustrate such a collaboration with an example of the development and market launch of an innovative food preservation technology. 264.   Writing her doctorate, Olga Dubey, a young biologist, discovered a natural substance that can be used to combat pathogenic fungi which infest fruit and vegetable. She knew that up to that day there was no efficient, cost-effective organic treatment against moulds on the market. As Ms Dubey became aware of the market potential of her discovery, it was also clear that she needed help in the form of advice and funding in order to develop her scientific discovery into a marketable product. She decided to apply for participation in the federal programme called "BRIDGE". Literally functioning as a bridge between research and practice, the programme was initiated in December 2016 by the Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse, the federal innovation promotion agency. Today, more than 40 projects benefit from the collaboration platform. By means of enhancing knowledge transfer between research and entrepreneurship, BRIDGE supports researchers in developing their discoveries into concrete applications and marketable products that can be used for the benefit of society. 265.   Thanks to BRIDGE's support, Ms Dubey ventured the step from science into her own business. The collaboration platform allowed her to go through the process of filing for a patent and setting up her own start-up, AgroSustain SA, while further enhancing her research activities. The young company developed a liquid which can be sprayed or fogged on crop yields, extending their shelflife. 266.   The post-harvest application of AgroSustain's liquid in food and plant storage facilities enables a significant reduction of waste. This also means a major reduction of greenhouse gases, an additional effect of less food spoiling along the supply chain. AgroSustain's product is going to be offered to major agricultural companies and retailers like Migros in Switzerland or Walmart in the US. Without the guidance, coaching and funding support obtained, Olga Dubey would have been forced to continue keeping herself busy in the university laboratory – and the product would not be made available to society today. 267.   Now, let us turn to the second type of public-private collaboration: In the following example, it was a public sector actor that applied for a patent, but was not able to commercialise the invention. It is an example which shows how the help of private actors can come in for the successful completion of a project initiated by a public institution. 268.   The success story of the present case is the result of a partnership between EMPA, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, and Flisom Ltd, a Swiss developer and manufacturer of photovoltaic solar cells. In 2011, EMPA succeeded in the development of flexible solar cells. The thin film cells showed an energy efficiency similar to that of conventional solar cells. Although the patented technology had great economic potential, the research team would not have been able to set up a production plant and launch the product on the market without the help of an industrial partner. Against this backdrop, EMPA started cooperating with Flisom. Using EMPA's patented technology, the research team, combining scientists and industrial experts from EMPA and Flisom, improved the energy efficiency to a level equal to some of the most efficient solar cells in the world. 269.   In 2015, Flisom was eventually able to produce a prototype of the first solar module based on this technology. The ultra-thin solar cells are printed on a web of flexible foils which allows for a very space-saving and cost-effective production. The company designed a special industrial manufacturing technology for a so-called "roll-to-roll production" of the flexible solar modules. The manufacturing procedure makes use of the material's characteristic. Compared to traditional largescale solar panel windows, the new foil can easily be unwound, processed and finally rewound. Only one year later, in 2016, Flisom put its pilot production line into operation and started to install the new product on buildings, use it as an energy source for means of transport and integrate it in off-grid installations. 270.   This example shows how important private sector actors can be in transforming an invention into a marketable commodity, for the benefit of society. As important as private investors are for the development of market-ready products, as in some areas of technology such development requires massive investments in time and resources. For small start-ups or young researchers, it is often difficult to raise enough money for the commercialization of their invention. At this point, a private or public partner can come in and act as decisive support, so that the momentum gained in early-stage research and development is not lost. 271.   There are many other BRIDGE and EMPA projects which can serve as examples of effective cooperation and mutual support, where public-private partnerships turned ideas and work into marketable products suitable for mass production. The registration and management of patent, trademark and design rights supports such public-private ventures by putting their collaboration on a safe legal base. They help ensure that each partner receives a fair share of what each of them contributed along the innovation process, and if a commercial success results, of the profits made. 272.   Oscar Wild once said: "The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable." Public-private collaboration in innovation can bring those two groups together, supporting the innovation process for the benefit of technological progress and economic development.
34.   The Chair said that the item had been put on the agenda at the request of Australia; Canada, Chile; the European Union; Hong Kong, China; Japan; the Republic of Korea; Singapore; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; and the United States of America. It covered two aspects of the broader topic of IP and innovation:
a. "The societal value of IP in the New Economy", a topic that the Council had discussed at its meetings last year. A relevant communication has been submitted to facilitate discussion (IP/C/W/650); and
b. "Public-Private Collaborations in Innovation", a theme proposed by the co-sponsors for 2019. A relevant communication had been submitted to facilitate discussion (IP/C/W/652 and Add.1).
35.   The representatives of the United States of America; Singapore; Australia; Switzerland; New Zealand; Chinese Taipei; Chile; South Africa; Hong Kong; China; Canada; Japan; Mexico; the European Union; the Republic of Korea; Brazil; China; India and the Dominican Republic took the floor.
36.   The Council took note of the statements made.
IP/C/M/91, IP/C/M/91/Add.1, IP/C/M/91/Corr.1