Editorial: Made in Indonesia, but Does It Work?

JANUARY 07, 2015

Technological innovation has never been among the things that Indonesia is famous for. Ours is an economy driven largely by consumption: we buy South Korean-made smartphones with processors made in Taiwan, running operating systems developed in the United States.

What those countries have in abundance, and Indonesia sorely lacks, is a dedication to innovation through amply funded research and development, by both the public and private sectors.

Indonesia’s minister of research, Muhammad Nasir, hopes to change that with a plan to waive fees for patent applications, whose high cost he blames for the dearth of innovations registered by Indonesia’s research and development community.

Nasir’s intention is laudable, but the theory ignores the true state of affairs here. First, respect for intellectual property rights in Indonesia is practically non-existent: the country consistently ranks among the worst violators of IP rights in the world, from software and movie piracy, to knockoff designer goods. Unless something in the national mind-set changes, innovators will see little benefit from applying for patents under such a lax regime of respect.

Second, and perhaps more crucially, the culture of innovation — and the creative thinking that engenders it — is something that Indonesia’s education system actively stifles. Students are from an early age inculcated into a system of rote learning and memorization. Again, unless the national education system is drastically overhauled to encourage free thinking, don’t expect a surge in patent applications any time soon.

To be competitive in research and technology, we have to be competitive in all the systems underlying it, and those include education and enforcement of IP rights.