Dr, could you please tell us about your family and early education?
I am married with 2 daughters. I am the 7th of 13 full and half siblings. My mother was a homemaker and father a businessman and a farmer. I started my basic education at Young Christian Preparatory School. After completing my basic education and successfully passing the West African Common Entrance Exams I enrolled at Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) for my secondary education where I obtained my Ordinary (O’s) and Advanced (A’s) Level certificates in science and technical after passing the West African General Certificate Exams.
Sir you were inducted into Illinois Tool Works (ITW) Patent Society as a Fellow and recognized as a Distinguished Patent Fellow Award! This is amazing. What inspired you to pursue this feat?
Innovative mindset has always been with me since infancy, I knew it and my plan was to develop it Whiles in Ghana, I had my first real-life opportunity to demonstrate my innovative skill just after my chemical engineering bachelor’s education from KNUST where I was consulting for West African Mills Company LLC (WAMCO) Takoradi within 1998 to 2001. WAMCO at the time was a joint venture between Ghana’s Cocoa Board Germany’s and Hosta Group of Companies. Three (3) years prior to consulting, I had my industrial attachment (internship) at the same place where the company was cited by the EPA for its effluent non-compliance. Very high food materials, mainly cocoa butter and cocoa mass were in the effluents they were discharging into a nearby lagoon. This was gradually forcing the lagoon to extinction. This was gradually forcing the lagoon to extinction. I needed to save a lagoon that I have once sport fished as a little boy.
Time was of the essence for WAMCO to resolve their polluting discharge. Several consultants and companies presented their ideas to WAMCO in the bid to gain the contract to resolve the issue. I presented my solution to one Mr. S.M Morrison then WAMCO’s Quality Manager. He was very impressed and arranged for me to present my idea to senior management. Senior management were also impressed and agreed to fund a scaled-down (benchtop) prototype of the design to test the concept before building an actual large-scale effluent treatment system.
The proposed system comprised of a cocoa fat trap and an aerobic system to deal with the finer food. Test results was promising to implement the large-scale design (Phase I). Phase II was to recycle the recovered treated effluent water for reuse by WAMCO while the food waste trapped mainly oil/fat was for local soap making. Time slipped by. And before the implementation, I relocated to the USA to further my education. I could not return to Ghana to implement the design when I was contacted.
While in the USA, I had the mindset to improve on my innovative skills by working for different companies and taking useful courses in areas relating to innovative processes, concept to commercialization, post-commercialization, patenting processes, intellectual property (IP) law and policy, technology, operations, value chain management, business strategy, sales, marketing, and others. Illinois Tool Works (ITW) among other companies gave me the opportunity to shine.
What companies in Ghana do you believe contributed to your developing your skills in the innovation area? Directly or indirectly having an industrial exposure goes a long way to give anyone the practical touch for improving innovation skills. In Ghana, I did industrial attached (internship) at the former WAMCO under S. M Morrison, Ghana Cement Works under Joe Mensah, volunteered for EPA under Irene Heathcote, held some consultancy roles among others and later employed by Tema Oil Refinery (TOR). The various roles and mentorships prominently contributed invaluably to my knowledge of innovation today.
Sir what did your Alma Mata, GSTS and KNUST and your actively involvement in the National Society of Black Engineers played in getting to this feat/achievement? GSTS being a secondary technical school gave me the skill and opportunity to use my hands and my mind “Mente et Manu (By Mind and Hand)” as well as being independent. Experiences at GSTS were unparalleled given that it is one of the few schools that gave students a technical and secondary capabilities. KNUST gave me a great technical and theoretical backing to support and refine my innovative thinking processes.
For countries that wish to develop a strong innovation, invention and patent system are necessary,” …Africa does not have such Systems and societies and if there is any in this field, it isn’t vibrant? Africa already has some patenting systems that have their own challenges which includes harmonization or unification, cost and unaffordability by Africans, lack of robust structure and supporting institutions. Three (3) different patenting systems exist which is comprised of a complicated mix of national and regional systems. Each regional system is made up of several countries. Two (2) of the three (3) are regional patent offices; accounts for approximately 65% African countries split along mainly English and French i.e. African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) or African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), respectively. The third (3rd) system i.e. National Patent Systems and South Africa is countries having their own national patent legislations. National registration is the only method possible in South Africa which is the top patent office in Africa, which is neither a member of ARIPO nor OAPI. Marked differences exist between all these systems. Sadly, an intellectual property enforceable or applicable in one system may not always be enforceable or applicable in another system.
The absence of a big body overseeing inventions, innovation and patenting across Africa, could minimize collaborations and mobilization. Moreover, issues such as transportation, communications, internet connectivity, proper education, awareness and accessibility among others.
At least harmonization of the three (3) patenting system if not unification, promoting education and drawing awareness while finding means to lower the cost or support viable inventions could instigate and improve innovation, invention and patent vibrancy consequently developing Africa.
It is the believe that the newly African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) will uncover the need for at least the harmonization of the three (3) patenting system if not unification while the countries boundaries fades away.
Please Dr, personally do you have contacts with such societies in Ghana or have plans to help establish some here? Even though, I am not in contact with any society in Ghana or Africa, I have been monitoring the African innovation ecosystem and have realized the existence of significant gaps, including lack of support and funding, and guidance patenting and invention protection. Moreover, many of the existing innovation ecosystem are concentrated around a common area of the innovation value chain.
I have been talking and mobilizing like-minded people and teams for this cause and something will be up and running very quickly. We hope to add to and drive an exponential innovation growth.
Sir, do you think the African economy in general with the policies at play help the industry you find yourself in thrive? Africa is developing and there are many challenges which we need to start somewhere. I believe education, awareness, providing the right avenues and funding as part of broader objectives will go a long way. Also, partnering or joining forces with existing companies, organizations, etc. in the similar space will speed the process across Ghana as well as Africa.
Sir Please what are some of the specific things the continent be stands to benefit from taking patenting and invention seriously? Almost everything – from products, processes and services. For a developing continent, implementing a system to harness opportunities are necessary. Making new things and improving existing ones will increase overall efficiencies. Note that many of the developed countries have fewer resources but a strong innovation system. Africa with its land size, diversity and the resources will benefit immensely from a strong innovation system as it will help harness the countless opportunities. Moreover, there are many young people with very innovative mindsets across Africa.
Sir what is your opinion of how we go about issues of patenting, invention and copyrighting here in Ghana and Africa at large? Systems exists for patenting and copyrighting in Ghana as well as Africa. However, the cost, the complexity of the processes, enforceability and at the African level, lack of harmonization of the patenting systems could be some of the challenges. We need to make things easy and less costly. Individuals should also take it upon themselves to learn about these processes, knowing that the patenting process can be costly and complicated. The internet is good place to start. Reaching out to lawyers and experts such as myself to learn about the various IP protection options could also be a good idea.
Where do you see the trends that will drive forward the use of Technological Innovation and invention? Making use of big data, improving Internet of things, blurring the lines between humans and computers, focus on predictive technologies to look at diseases, events are some areas.
Sir Please Would you have been able to attain such a treat if he were to be in Ghana? If Yes why? and if No, Why? I do not think I would have been able to attain such a feat in Ghana. Probable, I could have given up along the way given the numerous impediments including lack of support and resources, cumbersomeness of the process, and of all, the cost of securing an invention by a patent. I cite my experiences 20 years ago trying to patent an effluent treatment system invention I have developed with a promising result that the design could resolve pressing companies needs and safeguard some of the waterbodies driven to extinction by industrial effluents. I needed to protect this design by a patent to provide me with a 20-year exclusive rights and ownership to competitively start a company by commercializing the design. I have just graduated from KNUST and I was ready to use my acquired knowledge and experiences from my industrial attachments (internships) to make a difference.
At the time, I had no clue about the patenting and innovation processes and how important they were tied to the development stages of my design, testing and starting a new business. All that my enquiries to patent my design uncovered was the different types of patents and the breakdown of the cost into the various fees including (1) search, (2) filing, (3) examination, (4) maintenance and (5) lawyer. The lawyers’ (attorney’s) fees was for performing a professional patent search, drafting the patent application materials and responding to patent examiner questions about the patent during the process. It was clear the process was going to be expensive, in the range of 5,000 to 30,000 USD.
Disappointed in the absence of support, patent system cumbersomeness and money, I dropped my invention. I headed abroad to pursue my dreams after applying to getting scholarship for graduate school in USA. I could not return to Ghana when I was later contacted to pursue the actual design.
Some questions that I ask myself today given the knowledge is: even if I had the patent granted 20 years ago, would I have made enough to maintain it and still make profit? Will it have been patronized? Will it have been a good invention to keep as trade secret? Or was it even a new idea? These are questions which keep on lingering in the minds of today’s inventor in Africa given a complicated system with less support or headway.
The time is coming for some clarity and better decision making. I am willing to be contacted to help people make these decisions or throw some light on the processes as well as the best approach.
Today, given the availability of internet, cellphones, search machines and easy communications networks there is some awareness and opportunity for one to learn more and find the right people. The likelihood of finding a patent lawyer or agent has improved significantly, however, some of the major challenges like cost of patenting still exist. Moreover, scarcity of support for patenting and deep application of an innovative process to ideas/concept to commercialization may be hard to find.
What are your personal drives in all these? Generally, I am passionate about everything I do. Chiefly, I am fascinated by seeing my handiwork being used and making life better has been my driven me. Especially, when an idea (intangible) comes to reality(tangible) after applying some set of principles. The idea or concept (intangible) go through an R&D phase with the various testing to better root the idea in basic science or grasp the concept by reducing uncertainty and determine scalability; product development phase where all the specification are used in designing a product, tested in the lab and on the field while going through iterations with the customer in mind, further reducing the uncertainties to make the product commercial viable (tangible) for large scale production and them for sale. Of all, the process should make the product make business, financial and technical sense given most external conditions to ensure pursuing.
Having attended University here in Ghana and abroad, what are some of the best practices there you think is high time Ghana develops? Several things. The following are few: empowering the universities to support the nation, being truthful and calling a spade a spade, discipline and seriousness, spending time to plan before execution of any strategy or plan. Having good frameworks. The agility of implementing findings from the universities. Student taught such that they can translate the classroom work to better themselves and nation while given the opportunities.
Please Sir, in your own candid opinion, what do you think are on his list of top 10 issues that you believe are; (a) Advancing and (b) retarding the development of Africa?
(a) Advancing development of Africa includes: (1) new African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA), (2) Available youth enthusiasm to tap, (3) Availability of arable lands, (4) Use basic science and research to explain phenomena vs spirituality and superstition, (5) Available internet and cellphones, (6) Free internet and easy flow of information. (7) Believe of Africa being the new place to develop, (8) Superiors setting good examples, (9) Patenting and innovation introduced as early as Kindergarten and (10) Availability of supporting system and importance of intellectual property. (b) Retarding the development of Africa includes: (1) Ignorance of the intellectual principles, (2) Overdependence on foreign aid, (3) Lack of true and genuine leadership, (4) Endless conflicts, lack of unity and poverty, (5) Wanting everything free and laziness, (6) Inadequate science and engineering education, (7) Poor understanding of the world, (8)Complex patenting systems across Africa and lack of harmonization or unification, (9) Still believing in our old ways and resistance to change “Sankofa”, (10) Overdependence in our family systems and the elderly is always right, (11) Pull-Him-Down (PHD) syndrome, (12) Oral history, lack of people finding out about the truth and accessibility to information and (13) Understanding and application of religion
Overall, what can “invention, innovation and patenting do for Ghana and Africa? There are several definitions for innovation, however, the underlying meaning is similar. By definition it is “the process of translating an idea or invention into goods or services that creates value or for which customers will pay (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/innovation.html)
If innovation is pursued properly, unemployment will drop since there will be several business incubators creating businesses. Many people could take their destiny into hands while making positive impacts with innovation. Moreover, time is money, but in Africa lot of people have time but very poor. Practicing the whole innovation value chain i.e. idea generation, conversion and diffusion is one of the ways to convert people’s time to money with maximum output to help themselves, their countries and Africa as a whole. Human capital abounds in Africa and needs to be channeled appropriately. The impact of innovation is exponential.
Sir, do you have any piece of advice for the Youth as well as Ghanaians? Have good mentors and friends, be open and flexible, always consider opportunities are around you and seize them, stay positive and ambitious, be serious with any opportunity that comes your way, build a network of reliable people and start your own business however small.
I will leave with the following quotes “Innovation is not a gift but a skill that can be taught using structured innovative processes and templates”, and “Look around you, what do you see? Problems? No! Opportunities? Yes! It is time to shine. Team up with your reliable friends and turn the problems into opportunities. Seek help from reliable sources. Get great mentors”.
Source: Christopher Sam / HypercitiNews