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Creating a culture of creativity: Importance of Intellectual Property Rights



By Dilani Hirimuthugodage

On the 26th of April each year, Intellectual Property (IP) Day is celebrated to draw public attention to the importance of IP rights in fostering creativity and innovation.

It is said that oil was the primary fuel of the 20th century economy while creativity is the fuel of the 21st century. Creative industries encompass a broad range of activities such as arts, craft, music, design and media which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent, and have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. Creative industries are vital to many economies, accounting for 7% of the world’s GDP and growing at an annual rate of 8.7% according to the latest available data.

The World Intellectual Property Rights Organization (WIPO) marks IP Day under specific themes, and this year, it focuses on creativity in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in bringing novel ideas to the market. Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) including copyrights, trademarks, Geographical Indications (GI), patents, and sui generis systems are important in protecting and fostering creativity. This blog highlights the importance of IPRs for Sri Lanka’s creative industries and offers strategies to build stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses.

Creative Industries in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s creative sector can be broadly divided into three categories: arts and culture, design, and media. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) commissioned by the British Council, Sri Lanka identified 16 subsectors as creative industries:

According to the available data, Sri Lanka’s creative industry has shown a growth of 95% between 2010 to 2014, rising from USD 433.6 million to USD 845.4 million. An approximate estimate of the GDP share of creative goods and services exports in 2014 was nearly 1.1%. The IPS survey, which sought to capture the current size and scale of the creative industry sector in Sri Lanka, found that only 4.6% of respondents were export-oriented and the balance produced for local consumption. Thus, the 1.1% GDP share is an underestimate, as it only accounts for the exports of creative goods and services.

The IPS survey also found that the number of employees in the sector make-up approximately 3% of the country’s total labour force. Approximately 36% of creative workers are female and 67% of workers in the sector are between the ages of 24 and 55 years, while 71% of workers are in the private sector and the rest is in government and semi-government sectors. Self-employment is high in this sector, with 40% of the workforce identifying themselves as ‘self-employed’. As is the case globally, in Sri Lanka too, the sector consisted mostly of SMEs and sole traders with only a few large businesses.

Most importantly, the creative industries depend on the talents of individuals and the generation of intellectual property. Thus, several IPRs are relevant to the sector. For example, copyrights for literature, music, visual arts, digital creative work, trademarks for advertising and branding, GI for location-specific creativities, and patents for gaming and digital designs. Therefore, IPRs play a major role in driving this sector. Further, IP enforcement is important to protect the creator and/or investors to provide them with incentives to invest and further develop the sector.

The awareness of IPRs among the survey respondents in the above-mentioned IPS study was poor. Only 8.8% had obtained any form of IP protection, out of which 48% had copyrights, 10% had patents, 26% had trademarks and 16% had others. Copyrights and trademarks were taken up in each sector whereas patents were only adopted in a few subsectors such as visual/performing arts, crafts, advertising, etc. (Figure 1).

IPRs are relevant to the creative industry as it relies on the use of intellectual production to create its goods and services. Following are a few suggestions to enhance the effective utilisation of IPRs for the development of the creative sector: Firstly, it is important to enhance knowledge on access to IPRs in the creative industry sector through awareness programmes at the grassroots levels especially in the craft, music, dance and design sectors. Industry professional associations should take the lead in this regard.

Secondly, many traditional creative industry sectors such as craft, performing arts, and visual arts are location-specific such as Ambalangoda masks, Dumbara mats, and Weweldeniya cane products. Thus, products can use GI to indicate that the goods have a special quality, character or reputation because they originate from a specific place. This will help to protect their rights, increase product value and better visibility. As such, the National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO) must speed up the process of identifying and obtaining GIs for selected sectors while also expanding links with WIPO to protect traditional creative industries.

Thirdly, at the national level, it is important to adopt a sui generis (a unique system) legal framework for protecting traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, which are ultimately the foundation from which Sri Lanka creates its unique designs. Fourth, laws need to be updated as the existing legal framework does not cater to developments in modern technology. NIPO should also improve its efficiency and capacity to cater to modern creativities especially for IT and design sectors. Finally, Sri Lanka must modernise its IP system, incentivise grassroots innovation and promote homegrown creativity to fuel a culture of creativity.

This blog is based on an IPS study, commissioned by the British Council, Sri Lanka on Creative and Cultural Industries in Sri Lanka (2020).

Dilani Hirimuthugodage is a Research Economist working on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Policy at IPS. Her research interests include agriculture economics, food security, intellectual property rights and innovations. She holds a Masters in Economics (with Distinction) from the University of Colombo. She is part-qualified in Charted Institute of Management (CIMA-UK). (Talk to Dilani:



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Courtyard by Marriott to debut in Sri Lanka



Marriott International is set to introduce the Courtyard by Marriott brand to Sri Lanka, this year. The hospitality giant has signed an agreement with Colombo City Centre Partners (Private) Limited, part of the Abans Group, for this 164-key hotel, expected to open in late 2021, – according to Business Traveller India.

Located in the heart of Colombo city adjacent to the Beira Lake, Courtyard by Marriott Colombo will feature 164 modern guest rooms and suites. The rooms will be equipped with functional work area, smart amenities, and high-speed internet access, making it an ideal stay option for business and leisure travellers, the Indian magazine stated.

There will be two dining venues – an all-day dining restaurant serving a combination of western dishes, Asian favourites and a host of local delicacies as well as an adjoining Lobby Lounge decked with a full-service bar and a quick-bites menu.

Other amenities include a 24-hour fitness centre, an outdoor swimming pool and three meeting rooms.

Rajeev Menon, president, Asia Pacific (excluding China), Marriott International said:

“We are delighted to strengthen our Marriott Bonvoy portfolio of hotels in Sri Lanka with today’s signing. The signing underscores our long-term commitment to Sri Lanka as a strategically important market, offering the potential to grow our brands and provide customers with more choices.”

Kiran Andicot, regional vice president – Development, South Asia, Marriott International commented, “We are very pleased to collaborate with Abans Group, who share our vision to offer smart, intuitive service and high-quality accommodation in Sri Lanka.”

Further elaborating on the collaboration, Aban Pestonjee, chairperson of Abans Group said:

“We are happy to have forged this strategic business alliance with Marriott International and are keen to see our relationship grow from strength to strength. We eagerly look forward to the opening of the first Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Sri Lanka. We are excited to have Marriott International with us at Colombo City Centre.”



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Virtusa appoints Santosh Thomas as CEO



Virtusa Corporation, a global provider of digital strategy, digital engineering and IT services and solutions that help clients change and disrupt markets through innovation engineering, yesterday announced the appointment of Santosh Thomas as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Virtusa’s Board of Directors appointed Santosh as successor to the company’s founder, Kris Canekeratne, who announced his transition from the business in May 2021. Santosh joins Virtusa during a time of significant growth and follows the recent appointment of Sander van‘t Noordende to the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Santosh brings more than 20 years of leadership and industry experience to Virtusa. Most recently Santosh served as President of Global Growth Markets at Cognizant where he managed a business with revenues over $4 billion and built multiple billion-dollar businesses in Europe and Asia Pacific in Banking, CommTech and Products & Resources.  In his new role, Santosh will help Virtusa drive growth in key markets and continue to be recognized as an employer of choice.

“On behalf of the entire company and the Board of Directors, I would like to thank Kris for his more than two decades of leadership,” said Sander van‘t Noordende. “I would also like to welcome Santosh who brings a stellar track record of client service, leadership, and proven success. Santosh has the vision and experience to take Virtusa’s deep heritage in digital engineering to new levels of growth.”

 “I am deeply honored to join Virtusa at this exciting time for our employees, clients and partners,” said Santosh Thomas. “I have admired Kris and Virtusa for fostering a culture of innovation and distinguishing itself as a global leader in helping customers tackle their unique digital transformation challenges. Virtusa has a great brand reputation, an impressive roster of strategic partners, and is well positioned for sustained growth.”

“When I founded Virtusa 25 years ago I had a vision to build a global powerhouse in digital engineering services. And we did just that,” said Kris Canekeratne. “I leave with the confidence that the company and its leadership team have never been stronger and its opportunities have never been greater. I welcome Santosh Thomas to the CEO role and wish him the best in his efforts to lead Virtusa through its next phase of growth.”

Also announced yesterday, Denise Warren has joined Virtusa’s Board of Directors and has been appointed Chairperson of its Audit Committee. Ms. Warren recently retired from her position as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of WakeMed Health & Hospitals, and serves on the boards of Brookdale Senior Living, Computer Programs & Systems Inc., and Rockroom Insurance Group. 



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No double standards please, on govt’s vehicle import ban: CMTA



Meanwhile, on June 9, The Island published its front page lead story ‘Covid time bonanza: Luxury SUVs for MPs coming after all- LCs opened before Cabinet rescinded its own decision’.

The Ceylon Motor Traders Association (CMTA) has expressed its concerns on the decision the government has taken to import 400 vehicles – including 227 luxury SUVs – to a value of Rs. 3.7 billion through the Bank of Ceylon. The Government reversed its earlier decision to cancel the order, citing the fact that the Letters of Credit (LCs) had been already opened and “as the opening of Letters of Credit meant guaranteed payment, Sri Lanka faced the prospect of being blacklisted if a unilateral decision was taken” as per Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s explanation to the press.

The CMTA notified the government of the same issues and repercussions on international trade as a result of unilaterally dishonouring 216 LCs of its members that had been opened prior to the import ban in March 2020. Totalling Rs. 5.2 billion, these include a considerable number of vehicles ordered by permit holders such as doctors and government officials who are at the forefront fighting the pandemic, some of whom had already sold their existing vehicle, anticipating their new vehicle to arrive shortly. Is it fair to keep these permit holders on hold indefinitely while new luxury SUVs are imported for MPs during the import ban?

Due to these LCs being dishonoured, a total of more than 14,000 vehicles comprising 10,780 Motorcycles, 2640 trishaws and 537 Cars specifically ordered for Sri Lankan market conditions were prohibited from being imported.

The vehicle import ban imposed last year has taken a toll on vehicle buyers by constricting the market at a time when the need for personal transportation is more acute. To make matters worse, the resulting imbalance of demand vs. supply has caused prices of used vehicles skyrocket within a short time span, and has led to unscrupulous activities at the expense of the consumer, such as odometer tampering.

Speaking on behalf of the CMTA, Chairman Yasendra Amerasinghe said, “Considering the rampant increase of COVID-19 cases at this time, with various potent variants of the virus spreading throughout the island, personal mobility represents the safest option for citizens who have no choice but to travel. The CMTA very much agrees with Minister Rambukwella’s statement that cancellation of confirmed LCs will affect the credibility of our banks and country. We strongly urge the government to apply the same standard to LCs for vehicles for government servants including doctors, and the general public as it has applied for luxury SUVs for MPs. We hope that there would be no double standard.”

Furthermore, the CMTA mentioned that it had been reminding the government of a proposal for Quota that It had submitted in March, at the request of the President’s Secretariat, to which no response had been given. This proposal was based on a minimum volume of vehicle imports for the industry to survive until the import ban is lifted.

Concerns were also raised as to how this purchase had been carried out without an open tender, with queries as to whether it complies with government procurement guidelines.

Founded in 1920, the Ceylon Motor Traders Association (CMTA) is affiliated to the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and is widely accepted as the voice of the Sri Lankan Automotive Industry.

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