How To Commercialize Telecoms Sector Researches

TECHDIGEST – Researches emanating from the telecommunications sector should be commercialised to enhance their originality and acceptability.

This formed part of the discussions that emanated at the recently organised roundtable with academia, industry and other stakeholders in the Southern Region by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the theme: “The Path from Innovative Research to Commercialisation of Viable Prototypes.”

Lead Speaker, Founder of the Valentine Chineto Ozigbo (VCO) Foundation, Valentine Ozigbo, said innovative research is the search for new business methods, strategic techniques, and solutions to solve today’s pressing problems.

Ozigbo, the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), stressed that it is the process of inventing new products or solutions that solve a problem uniquely.

According to him, the 2021 Global Innovation Index created by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ranked Nigeria 118th out of 132 economies. Switzerland, Sweden, and the United States of America lead the world, adding that in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania lead.

Revealing some worrisome data, he said Nigeria filed 425 patents in 2020. According to him, there is a difference between filed and approved, “between 2010 and 2020, Nigeria filed 1,702 patents. Let us match that against our universities – the pinnacle of research and innovation in any society. We have 91 public universities in Nigeria. This would mean that, on the average, each Nigerian university filed 19 patents in 10 years.

“This tells us what we may already know about ourselves. The world has left us behind. We are far behind. We are not given to problem solving or original thinking. We need to step up our game in the area of innovation. We need to catch up with the rest of the world. I believe that we can catch up and overtake them but specific radical steps need to be taken.”

On this, he said there are three approaches to innovation, which include, “needs-based approach (this is when innovation is driven by needs identified in the market]; seeds-based approach (this is driven by the supply needs in the industry or manufacturing ecosystem] and the accelerated innovation approach, which is driven by the quest to solve industry-relevant problems.

According to him, Nigeria needs a radical innovation approach, which considers all three protocols above and even some more, where there are no boundaries in thinking. “One that involves original thinking, solving the world’s biggest problems. One that identifies problems nobody has thought about and solves before they know they have a problem.

“We need to get into the zone where Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs and other innovators operate. Where inventions around space travel are being made. Where rapid and radical reengineering in the field of food, medicine, human potential, longevity, fuel, power, energy, technology, and learning are occurring. The space where 3D, 4D, 5D are made. I am talking about the world of limitless possibilities and infinity thinking,” he stated.

To transform a prototype to business venture, Ozigbo said it is advisable to “seal the protection of your ideas via patenting, trademarking, and other intellectual property registrations.”

According to him, an initial feasibility study would also support the process at this point. He explained that a feasibility study accesses the practicality of a plan or method or endeavour.

Earlier at the forum, the Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta said the commission collaborates with the academia in maximising the contributions of the country’s tertiary institutions to innovations and sustainable development of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Industry.

The NCC EVC, who was represented by the Director, Legal and Regulatory Services at the commission, Ms. Josephine Amuwa, informed that at the end of 2021, the telecoms body provided N522.6 million as research grants to tertiary institutions. He stressed that each research is designed to deliver a prototype that can be commercialised for the benefit of the industry and consumers.

As such, Danbatta said the roundtable was put together to encourage the commercialisation of locally developed telecommunications innovations, which hitherto had been sponsored by the commission, as a way of fostering and deepening the indigenous technological capabilities of Nigerians, to support the overall growth of the industry and creating wealth for the spin-off companies.

He said academia is a key driver of innovation in all spheres of human endeavor, “but in specific terms, the ideas, inventions and improvements that emanate from the academia are required by industry for improved efficiencies and productivity. With this in mind, the regulator, as a critical component of any ecosystem, aims to ensure all stakeholders are protected and the industry nurtured for maximum benefit to business and society.”

Danbatta said faced with the challenges of commercialising research prototypes, it is clear that the commission will have to make a commitment to facilitate the contributions from academia, by supporting the commercialisation of these prototypes, to deepen the indigenous technological capabilities, which would support the overall development of the industry.

On his part, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Kayode Adebowale, said bringing all stakeholders involved in innovation together remains very key for the country.

Adebowale said one of the things lacking in Nigeria is the idea of the Triple Helix Model of Universities that carry out research for government and probably handshake with them so that it won’t just be research for research sake, “but research for development, which will see industry been able to come to the university and tell us the problems before them. Also the varsities will then be able to visit private industries and then be able to ask them what they can do.

“It is when we do this that we will be able to impact on national development. Otherwise, we will just be carrying out these researches and they will just remain on the shelves and die there, which we don’t want. But when we come together like this, we will be able to exchange ideas and as NCC is doing, provide a channel for us to be able to interact.”