Scientia Potentia Est, Si Quis Habetis Clavem: Knowledge Is Power, If You Hold the Key

For developing nations to fully develop, access to global knowledge is critical

At the recent Caribbean Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Roadshow Innovation and Investment Forum in Barbados, Senator Haynesley Benn addressed the importance that access to global knowledge has had in three of the most economically successful nations in the developing world.

"If we look across the world, a number of developing countries such as Korea, China and Singapore have successfully used innovation to become the economic force they are today and to sustain their economic and social development," said Benn, who is also the Barbadian minister of commerce. "These countries have been able to tap global knowledge and innovate by absorbing the knowledge gained."

But Korea, China and Singapore are wealthy countries that have invested mightily in the kind of education, knowledge transfer and R&D infrastructure that is a prerequisite for rapid, sustainable growth in knowledge economies. For poor developing nations, access to the wealth of global knowledge is a major roadblock. And so often, knowledge—in the form of intellectual property (IP)—isn't free, particularly when it comes to cutting-edge research papers that are typically available only in expensive scientific journals. It is precisely such research that could help a developing nation not only access critical knowledge and technologies across a wide variety of developmental areas, but also in the overall transition from subsistence- and resource-based economies to knowledge-based economies of scale.

"Responding to challenges in areas such as economic productivity, agriculture, education, gender inequity, health, water, sanitation, environment, and participation in the global economy will require increased use of scientific and technical knowledge," asserts the United Nations Millennium Project. "Technological innovation and the associated institutional adjustments underpin long-term growth and must be at the center of any strategy to strengthen the private sector."

In their report "Technology Transfer and Innovation: Key Country Priorities for Rio+20," issued in March, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) made its case for cooperation and making global knowledge freely available. "Unprecedented levels of scientific and technological cooperation are needed to overcome the major global challenges of the 21st century," the report argued. "Much information is available, but it is fragmented, and there is a need for a mechanism to systematically collect and process existing knowledge into authoritative and comprehensive reports on key sustainable development and green economy issues. This knowledge should be made freely available to the scientific community and policy makers, businesses and the public at large."


For many, especially we of the digital age, the mere mention of the phrase "intellectual property" conjures up copyright infringement lawsuits and the IP "battle du jour" in the corporate world. But for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property is seen as "a force for innovation and creativity to achieve positive change."

Headquartered in Geneva, WIPO was established in 1967 as the United Nations agency responsible for "promoting creative intellectual activity and for facilitating the transfer of technology related to industrial property to the developing countries in order to accelerate economic, social and cultural development."

"Protecting intellectual property rights is a critical aspect of technological innovation," the UN Millennium Project notes. "But overly protective systems can constrain creativity. Intellectual property protection systems need to be designed to take into account the special needs of developing countries."

Senator Benn echoed that sentiment, saying, "The efforts of the local innovators must become a source of increased economic activity...and the efforts can be accelerated if we put in place policies that promote the dissemination of knowledge."

And that's where WIPO wields its influence: Helping to develop the international legal IP framework—so that it works in tandem with the evolving needs of society on a larger developmental scale—is one of the agency's primary mandates. And it isn't just another UN agency without teeth. Unlike other UN branches, WIPO enjoys and employs significant financial resources independent of member state contributions. In 2006, more than 90 percent of its income of approximately CHF 250 million (USD 268 million) came from fees for the IP patent system it administers.


Earlier this month, WIPO announced a major contribution by one of its partners that should excite many innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers across the developing world. Elsevier, one of the world's leading brands in medical and scientific research publishing, is now offering its entire collection of books and journals on its online platform ScienceDirect, and access to its abstracts and citation database Scopus to 105 developing countries for free or little cost. The offering covers a wide range of subjects, including life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering—subjects critical to spark and nurture innovation and sustainable development across the developing world.

The program will be administered through the ARDI (Access to Research for Development and Innovation) program, a public-private partnership launched in 2009 by WIPO in cooperation with various leading science and technology publishers that provides universities and research institutes in developing and least developed countries (LDCs) with free or low-cost access to selected online scientific and technical journals. Making over 2,000 journals and nearly 7,000 e-books available, the landmark agreement will increase ARDI's program content more than ten-fold.

In addition to the Amsterdam-based Elsevier—known for such journals as Cell, a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing research papers dealing with life sciences, and The Lancet, one of the best known and oldest peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, as well as that Bible of medicine, Gray's Anatomy—ARDI's publishing partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Physics, John Wiley & Sons, Nature Publishing Group, National Academy of Sciences, National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, Oxford University Press, Royal Society of Chemistry, Sage Publications, Springer Science+Business Media and Taylor & Francis.


"There is a growing demand for access to high quality technological information in developing countries which acts as a basis for development and innovation in these countries," said Yo Takagi, assistant director general of the Global Infrastructure Sector of WIPO. "This is an important element in the innovation process and in any eventual protection through patent rights. WIPO is keen to work with publishers to ensure that low-and-middle-income countries can play their full part in this vibrant economic landscape. In this respect, Elsevier’s new contribution to ARDI…is a major step forward in realizing this goal."

"We are delighted to extend our partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization and in this way to realize a shared vision for universal access to quality research content," said Alicia Wise, Director of Universal Access at Elsevier. “We are dedicated to advancing innovative research everywhere."

In his 1658 work De Homine, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described one of life's truism's with the simple phrase scientia potentia est: "knowledge is power." For the knowledge economies of the rich OECD countries, that concept has been duly borne out. But for the truism to become reality for all nations, the roadblocks to global knowledge must be removed. Thanks to the work of the WIPO and its partners in the private sector like Elsevier, such roadblocks are being replaced by an important piece of the innovation puzzle for the developing world: scientia.



The Barbados Advocate. Innovation can lead to economic development (September 14, 2012), accessed September 22, 2012.
United Nations Millennium Project. Innovation: Applying knowledge in development. United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation Task Force (January 17, 2005), iii, accessed September 22, 2012.
International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. Technology Transfer and Innovation: Key Country Priorities for Rio+20 (March 20, 2012): 3, accessed September 22, 2012.
World Intellectual Property Organization. Agreement between the United Nations and the World Intellectual Property Organization (December 17, 1974), accessed September 22, 2012.
United Nations Millennium Project. Innovation: Applying knowledge in development. United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation Task Force (January 17, 2005): 7, accessed September 22, 2012.
Ibid., 1.
World Intellectual Property Organization. Proposed Program and Budget for 2006/07 (February 15, 2005): 19, accessed September 22, 2012.
World Intellectual Property Organization. Over 9,000 New Elsevier Journals and Books Available Through ARDI (September 13, 2012), accessed September 22, 2012.
World Intellectual Property Organization. 150 new Taylor & Francis journals added to ARDI (August 23, 2011), accessed September 22, 2012.
Ibid., 8.

image: Historic works in a bookshelf in the Prunksaal (State Hall) of the Imperial Library of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. (credit: Matl, Wikimedia Commons)