Why Are So Few Things Invented in Indonesia?

Patents, although fairly cheap to secure in Indonesia, are rarely filed by local inventors. And when inventions are patented, they are usually held by foreigners.
April 12, 2017, 8:15am
Photo via Flickr user Will Scullin

You're probably reading this on a smartphone. If you are, you're holding about  250,000 active patents in your hand. The touchscreen you use to stalk your ex's Instagram account. The fingerprint sensor you use to keep your current boyfriend from seeing who you're texting. Each is its own patent, usually held by an individual inventor (or company).

Now, want to hear something pretty depressing? That smartphone has more patents in it than all of Indonesia. That's right, there are more patents in your hand than those filed by inventors in a country of more than 250 million people. Like I said, pretty depressing, right?

But wait, it gets worse. Today, only about 34,000 patents have been registered in Indonesia. And 95 percent of those patents belong to foreigners. So in a country that punches severely below its weight in new inventions, the number of patents filed by local Indonesian researchers are nearly non-exinsistant.

The country lags behind many other middle-income nations, and even other G20 members, when it comes to inventions. Indonesia is ranked 39 out of 45 in the Global Intellectual Property Center (GPIC) index. They cite a challenging copyright environment and high levels of piracy along with a new patent law that has weakened Indonesia's intellectual property protections as reasons behind the lag.

We wanted to know more, so we reached out to Nurul Taufiqul Rochman, head of the innovation division at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), to ask what else is holding the country back. Nurul's division at LIPI produces most of the patents in Indonesia (he himself holds about 20 of them, half of which have been sold for commercial use).

VICE Indonesia: What are the biggest sources of patents and innovations in Indonesia?
Nurul Taufiqu Rochman: Intellectual rights in Indonesia usually come from the science community. This consists of research centers such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), government ministries, and universities.

Many scientists don't understand how patents work. All they know is that patent claims are difficult. They believe that only big ideas can be patented. They don't understand that the small simple things which lead to breakthroughs and help improve old patents can also be registered as patents. It's really that simple, but they just don't get it.

Is registering a patent really that simple?
A lot of scientists don't know that the administration is easy. They also don't know that what they do can be registered as patent. So regulation wise, they have no idea.

Whats the process of registering a patent?
If you work at research centers or small or medium business, you can register for free. There are no fees during first five years of the patent. To register it only takes Rp 500.000 ($38 USD). The patent process takes three years, if you want to speed it up to six months, you have to pay Rp 2,000,000 ($150 USD). The patent examination costs are Rp 2,000,000, that's it. With Rp 4,500,000 ($338 USD) you can get something patented in a year and a half. Regular registration would only cost Rp 2,500,000 ($188 USD).

Indonesia only has about 34,000 registered patents in the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, and 95 percent are held by foreign citizens, why aren't Indonesian patenting anything?
That's our challenge. The regulation has been made simpler, but a lot of us still don't understand how it works. Perhaps even the policymakers in Indonesia don't understand it either. I believe they care, but to what extent? There are thousands of universities all over Indonesia, if one university can produce as many as five patents, we could have 2,000 across all universities. Not to mention the research centers. If that works out, Indonesia would be amazing. Every research will result in a patent. If not, then why doing research at all? Foreign citizens see the big potential in Indonesia, so they want the products sold in Indonesia to be protected, safe, and secure from intellectual theft, so they register patents in Indonesia.

What kinds of patent do you think Indonesia has the advantage to produce?
Most patents in Indonesia come from manufacturing, the machining industry, and inventions of new methods and tools..

Are patents from Indonesian scientists easily accepted in the industry?
The problem is how to connect our potential with users and producers. Buyers and sellers will produce. Sometimes research centers, maybe because the lack of knowledge and experience, face difficulties. In other countries, besides research centers, there are also private non-profit intermediation institutions, or ones that commercialize and technologize patents from research centers. In other countries such institutions are very active and play a huge role. Because they have the flexibility to process the patents for industry. Meanwhile in Indonesia, research centers have limitations in commercialization of patents. So it takes a long time to turn a patent into technology.

How hard is it to commercialize patents in Indonesia?
Not all patents can be commercialized. We have to identify deeper, I'm not to say that patents in Indonesia is hard to commercialize. Most other countries have difficulty commercializing patents, only about 5 to 10 percent of patents can be commercialized. The problem is how we can identify the same opportunities and find the suitable partners and technology in Indonesia. I think Indonesia holds a great potential, because not many have been successful, meanwhile the potential of natural resources and applied technology is not difficult.