September 2019

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The steel pan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, is not patented. The US-based licence once claiming it has lapsed.

How does such a major invention go without a patent? What has been the cost of this oversight? How can our inventors of today sidestep similar errors? For administrators and academics at the St Augustine Campus - this question is particularly important at this time. The campus has embarked on an innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) agenda tied to the goal of local and regional development.

Enter the Intellectual Property (IP) Desk at the Alma Jordan Library (AJL), UWI St Augustine.

“On this campus, a key strategic goal is to create an enabling environment that embodies all of the systems required to nurture an innovative culture and foster entrepreneurship,” says Campus Librarian Frank Soodeen. “IP plays a fundamental role in moving the research from innovation to commercialisation and entrepreneurship.”

Launched just over one year ago at the AJL, the IP Help Desk provides staff and students free access to education, information, training and advisory services in the field of intellectual property. It is an initiative of the AJL, UWI’s Office of Research, Development and Knowledge Transfer (ORDKT), and the Intellectual Property Office in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs.

The shift of focus to I&E is a major transformation for The UWI. In world rankings such as the Global Competitiveness Report, the Caribbean has traditionally not performed strongly in categories such as research and development. In its Triple A Strategy 2017-2022, The UWI has set targets like the creation of spin-off companies and commercialised patents. In line with this, the IP Help Desk was created to assist campus innovators in protecting their work.

“A key focus (of the university) is entrepreneurship,” said Professor Stephan Gift, UWI’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Graduate Studies and Research, at the launch of the Help Desk on July 31, 2018. “We are talking about taking the many ideas of our students and staff from the laboratory into the marketplace.”

Speaking at the launch as well, Regan Asgarali, Controller of Government’s IP Office, expressed the initiative much broader national significance. “Yours is a very important task – to turn this country around. And together, as patriots, we can once we utilise these areas – intellectual property, innovation and disruptive technologies.”

For the team at the AJL, intellectual property and Library and Information Science are a good marriage. “It’s information. What you do with information. How you handle it,” says Georgia Alexander, Librarian, Circulation and Access Services Division, at the AJL. Alexander is a key member of the set-up and development team of the IP Help Desk. Following her attendance at an IP workshop, facilitated by the AG Ministry’s IP Office and ORDKT at the campus, she felt that such training would greatly benefit her colleagues. She approached Soodeen about hosting a similar workshop for librarians and the wider campus community.

This subsequently resulted in a networking breakfast and workshop entitled - Intellectual Property Introductory Training Workshop: Patents and Patent Mining held in February 2018. The event was coordinated by fellow librarian Gerard Rogers and Alexander. This marked the genesis of the IP Help Desk – it was here that Mr Soodeen approached Professor John Agard (then Director of ORDKT and now Director of the St Augustine Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) to have a dedicated IP presence at the AJL.

Lalloo Ramlal, Specialist in Technical Information – IPO, came up with the framework for the service. After realising the need for more understanding and education on IP issues, Ramlal decided to see, “if we could find a central location where all could access us.” The Alma Jordan Library seemed an obvious choice and Mr Soodeen was in full agreement.

In July 2018, the IP Help Desk was launched by Louise van Gruenen, Director of the Building Respect for IP Division of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). “It is your moment of glory,” she told those in attendance. “I think this initiative is just incredible. It is a real stride in the direction of a knowledge-based economy and I am sure we will see the difference…. This is a fantastic initiative to make information, documentation, and assistance available.”

The UWI St August Guild of Students 2018-2019 was represented at the launch by then Guild President Darrion Narine and Treasurer (current Guild President) Justin Subero. Subero spoke on behalf of the Guild.

In May 2019, the IP Help Desk hosted a lecture presentation entitled “IP and the Future” by Mr Asgarali along with Mr Ramlal and Lyrinda Lisa Persaud - Attorney at Law at the IP Office. Inventor Rhona Jack also made a special guest appearance and gave a very inspiring talk about her journey to date. Ms Jack works closely under the guidance of the IP Office, and has made her mark internationally through her development of the Udazzle Fashion Ruler - a product to make measuring much easier.

What are some of the services offered?

“Members of the campus community can call, email or walk in and freely discuss their ideas in confidence, and we will treat with them. The staff will then conduct preliminary searches on their database to see if (their ideas) already exists,” says Ramlal. “For a business, we can show them the different IP issues they need to address.”

He adds: “when someone has a creative spirit we stay with them. We provide coaching as they develop their ideas. We give them technical support to help commercialise and protect their ideas.” The desk also provides guest lecture presentations in IP for classroom sessions as part of any course, and enrolls staff and students in WIPO’s online distance learning courses through their Worldwide Academy.

Lauren Boodhoo, Manager of IP at ORDKT, says the work of the IP Help Desk is “based on demand”. “Although it is a walk-in service, we would like to encourage staff and students to contact the IP Help Desk via email as well. This way, the IP Office can ensure that the most appropriate subject-matter expert is present to provide guidance.”

Innovators are encouraged to use the facility’s walk-in service on the second and fourth Thursday of every month, from 1pm to 4pm, or contact the IP Help Desk for an appointment.

Staff and students can contact the UWI’s IP Help Desk at the AJL - or (868) 662-2002 ext. 84026.