346. Thank you to Canada for suggesting this topic and continuing the conversation we began in June 2021 regarding IP and finance. This is an understudied area. As noted in the discussion paper, the data is sparse on the relationship between access to microfinance or microcredit and innovation or the development of intellectual property assets. However, an argument can be made that appropriate financing can support new and existing ventures in numerous ways, including by providing education and resources regarding intellectual property protection as part of a financial assistance package.
347. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve: microenterprise development programmes in the United States are about much more than the extension of credit, though access to credit remains a central concern. Many programmes take a holistic approach, offering interconnected services that complement lending activities and are targeted at entrepreneurs at each stage of business development. Services being offered include up-front business training; specialized technical assistance; mentoring programmes; sector-specific advice and support; networking opportunities; coordinated sales and marketing programmes; and the development of formal links with banks, local community colleges, and other institutions (Edgcomb and Klein, 2005).
348. In the United States, microcredit has generally been defined as loans of less than USD 50,000 to people — mostly entrepreneurs — who cannot, for various reasons, borrow from a bank. For example, organizations like Grameen America state that they offer small, less formal loans at a lower cost. Members are supposed to be below the federal poverty line when they join and use the money for entrepreneurial purposes. Other micro-lending organizations describe the use of technology like mobile credit, savings, payment and e-wallet solutions to make banking more accessible and affordable.
349. One advantage of microfinance appears to be its reach of underserved populations, like women and minorities. For example, organizations such as the Accion Opportunity Fund describe serving a client base that is nearly 90% women, people of colour, or immigrants. On its website, Accion offers information on intellectual property protection, including seeking patent, copyright, trademark protection, as well as trade secret protection. It is certainly true that limited access to credit is a huge barrier to growth for small businesses, especially in developing countries but also in developed countries for communities that are not well-integrated into the financial system. However, literature appears to indicate that this growth is generally focused on capital accumulation, expanding inventories, or increasing employee numbers, rather than the innovation channel. Few microfinancebacked businesses or individuals are at the "knowledge frontier" and likely to generate a patentable invention. Instead of innovation, they are more likely to focus on adopting the established best practices of their industry.
350. However, since many organizations offering microfinance loans target entrepreneurs and provide entrepreneurial training and assistance, opportunities exist for providing entrepreneurs with IP information, resources, training, or mentoring as they establish their business. Such actions could include referring small and emerging businesses to resources offered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
351. The USPTO offers multiple programmes that help small businesses and inventors with acquiring intellectual property protections, which can help protect creative works or ideas. These programmes, such as the Inventors Assistance Center and the Trademark Assistance Center, are aimed at assisting the public, especially small businesses and inventors, with intellectual property protections. The USPTO also provides information about The Patent Pro Bono Program, a nationwide network of independently operated regional programmes that match volunteer patent professionals with financially under-resourced inventors and small businesses for the purpose of securing patent protection. Inventors and small businesses that meet certain financial thresholds and other criteria may be eligible for free legal assistance in preparing and filing a patent application.
352. The USPTO and the US Copyright Office also offer a wealth of online information in the forms of videos, written guides, and other resources that cover both basic facts and more specific issues in IP protection. The Copyright Office's Public Information Office provides virtual and in-person support to creators using the registration system. Since microcredit loans appear to be geared to underserved populations, education on IP that could be provided alongside the loans could reach those who may not normally be familiar with or aware of the benefits of intellectual property protection.
353. Further, a small business that may not have a patentable invention may have an asset or idea that is ripe for trademark, copyright, or trade secret protection. With respect to the discussion question in the document concerning revenue generation from IP, opportunities exist for MSMEs to maintain some direct control over their IP while also leveraging it for capital, such as in the case of trademark and copyright licensing. This is a larger topic which we hope to explore in future discussions on IP and finance.