Posted on April 26, 2018
The Director-General, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, Dr. Ibrahim DanAzumi, says indigenous production of technology is crucial to the economic development of the country. He spoke with IFEOLUWA OGUNFUWA
What is the country losing as a result of non-patented innovations?
Patenting of innovations is to protect the innovation. It is one of the most important stages in commercialising research and development efforts. Any innovation that is not protected is like a land that does not have a Certificate of Occupancy. Anybody can encroach on it and the researcher has no monopoly over it. Not patenting it is like you are losing the chance of that research and development efforts to be commercialised.
We need to do that because more than 90 per cent of technologies powering the Nigerian economy are imported and these technologies are supposed to emanate from universities, research establishments, polytechnics and colleges of education. If the institutions where the technologies are meant to be produced are not doing anything, it means Nigerians will continue to be a consumer of technology coming from outside.
All technologies are products of research and development efforts that were generated from research establishments and tertiary institutions. For us as a nation, we have to start strategising to see how we can reduce consumption of these technologies and the institutions that could assist to reduce the level of consumption of foreign technologies in our universities. That is why we felt we should go to the universities and enlighten them to improve their culture of intellectual property protection.
Lecturers often rush to publish most of their research and development efforts. And once they are published, they are in public domain and they cannot have monopoly over them.
What we are trying to do is to educate them that before they publish, they need to protect it and NOTAP is there to assist them in protecting that intellectual property because that is the first stage of commercialisation of any research and development effort.
The researcher himself does not have the amount of money to move to the next level of commercialisation, so he needs the private sector to come in. And no stakeholder in the private sector will like to put their money in an intellectual property that is not protected.
What has been the impact of the 38 Intellectual Property Technology Transfer Offices all over the country?
The purpose of these offices is to change the culture and try to sensitise researchers. We used to get three to four patents in a year. Last year alone, we got about 16 patents. This year, from January to August, we already had 38 patents. Our target is that before the end of the year, we want to have patented certificates of 50 technologies. That means, we are bringing these technologies to the private sector for them to key in and commercialise them.
As custodians of these patents, we are under oath and nobody can have access to the information once it is protected. Even if someone tries to use the information to do something else, the owner can take a legal action.
That is why we always insist on patenting instead of rushing to publish a paper where all the information has been exposed and someone can just look at it and use the opportunity to convert it into something else. That is the culture we are trying to change and I am happy that it is working in the sense that in the last two years, we have seen the number of patents that have come out and it is encouraging.
In which sector of the economy are these patents mostly coming from?
They are coming from various sectors of the economy but mainly from the manufacturing sector and that is to our great advantage. If you look at our country, there is no local government that doesn’t have a source of one raw material or the other that you can process, add value and it becomes a raw material for one manufacturing outfit or the other. What you will need is to use technology to upgrade those raw materials.
Quite a number of our industries are importing raw materials that we even have in this country but because they are not up to the specification of the industry, these industries cannot use them. And we don’t expect these industries to refine them.
As a country, we need research and development to upgrade those raw materials to the standard at which the manufacturers will be able to use them. If we can achieve this, we can tell the manufacturers not to import materials that can compare favourably with what we have within the country.
The present Ministry of Science and Technology has succeeded in getting the Nigerian Research and Innovation Council in place. Under this council, there will be National Research and Innovation Fund. It is the fund that can be used to move research findings to the next level.
The Research and Innovation Council bill has passed the second reading and now it is being taken to the House of Representatives for concurrent passage. Once they concur, it is taken back to the President for ascent and it has now become institutionalised. That may give us the opportunity to move some of our research and development efforts to the market, which we really need. Other countries are doing it the same way and we too need to start doing this. Otherwise, we will continue to consume other people’s technologies.
Where will the funds be sourced from?
They will be sourced within the country. The bill clearly states where the funds will be sourced from. Every major ministry is a stakeholder. It is a national project in which every ministry will have to key into. Science and technology has cross-cutting application in agriculture, ICT, health and other sectors. We need science and technology to move forward as far as economic development of the country is concerned.
Where do researchers currently get support to commercialise their innovations?
There is no institutionalised framework but they get pockets of assistance. We have the Presidential Standing Committee on Innovation in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. It provides researchers with a grant to commercialise their research and development results. But it is not big enough to commercialise all research and development efforts.
Researchers are given some grants to move their findings to the next level. By the time this research and innovation fund is in place, it will now be used to further commercialise it.
Is there a plan by NOTAP to reduce the number of imported technologies to a certain level?
We do what we can do within our own jurisdiction. Sixty per cent of all technology transfer agreements we sign are on software. Software can be developed here locally. We sat down with stakeholders in Lagos about six years ago and said we would not just allow it to be business as usual.
We asked what we could do to reduce the importation of software. That was when we introduced the local vendor programme. The local vendor programme is designed to take care of two things – to develop the capacity of Nigerians in terms of the ability to develop software and at the same time provide financial support so that they will be able to translate that knowledge into software applications.
If you are importing any technology involving software, we insist that there must be a local vendor involved. A local vendor is a Nigerian computer firm that would be involved in the deployment of that software in Nigeria. If foreign software is coming into the country, the computer firm will be involved in deployment and maintenance of the software. Gradually, it is a strategy in which the local vendor will be able to learn something.
We don’t register any software agreement without asking for a local vendor. We say when you buy software in lump sum and after one year, there is what we call Annual Technical Services that support services in which you have to pay between 12 and 15 per cent of the total cost of software to the Original Equipment Manufacturer. It means every year, you will still pay them some money. We insist that 40 per cent of that amount should go to the Nigerian computer firm that is involved in the deployment and maintenance of the software.
In doing this, we build their capacity and provide them financial support. After doing this for six years, we looked back to examine the impact. If you go to Computer Warehouse Group, they have succeeded in training young Nigerians in terms of software applications development and we have learnt that they have extending their services to other African countries. Because of the 40 per cent they are getting, if you see the infrastructure they have put in place, you will be amazed. If that policy hadn’t come, all these things would not be there.
How do you ensure patronage of the software produced in the country?
We have a local content committee formed by NOTAP and National Information and Technology Development Agency. The committee would ensure that the software developed by Nigerians, if we are assured they will work the way the foreign ones will, we advise against importation or stop registering some of that software. We have started with the public sector and any public establishment that wants to acquire software must get clearance from NITDA.
NITDA will look at its database to see if the software is developed locally. If we have, they will let us know that there are alternatives locally and that we should not register them. For now, we have to confine ourselves to government agencies and ministries but banks are the major consumer of foreign software. We cannot go to the banks now; but by the time we are sure that what the banks need are locally available, we will still register imported software for the banks.