Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
September 14th 2011
On 8th July2011, the Attorney General of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (GORTT), in a public news conference, made several allegations against my colleagues and me in respect of activities conducted under the Steelpan Initiatives Project(SIP). These public allegations included references to my “hijacking” of the G-Pan, a steelpan variation which is very well known in Trinidad and Tobago and for which I received the highest national award as the inventor.
Over the past five years, SIP activities were guided by Cabinet Minute 3308-2005/12/21, which stated that Steel pan research and development have been identified as key components of the promotion of an innovation continuum (commercialization and research findings)... These initiatives which would serve" as vehicles for the development of local innovative capability"… represent an unprecedented opportunity for the Government and the people of our nation to advance the development of high-tech indigenous technology and promote sustainable development.The Cabinet Minute acknowledged all on going activities in steelpan R&D at the Steelpan Development Laboratory at the UWI, including the MIDIPan, which later was renamed PHI, in approving grant funding.
In keeping with this mandate, the SIP has helped to bring to the fore two innovations in steelpan technology, i.e. the Genesis Pan (more commonly known as the“G-Pan”) and the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI). These innovations have provided an opportunity for growth in the steelpan industry and significantly greater opportunities for pannists to explore and exploit their inner creativity.
My colleagues and I received the pre-protocol action letters mentioned by the AG one week after the news conference. We have recently responded to this pre-protocol action letter,which raised issues only in relation to the ownership of the PHI, and makes absolutely no reference to any of the allegations made by the AG at the July 8th press conference in relation to the G-Pan.
The G-Pan Allegations
It can easily be confirmed by all involved that there was never any contention on the issue of patenting and ownership of the G-Pan as alleged.
International patent laws allow patent applications from legal entities but will not recognize them as inventors, a right that only individuals can claim. As such, with the exception of the US, G-pan patents were filed in 61 international jurisdictions in the name of Brian Copeland as inventor and GORTT as owner. Following advice that US Patent Statutes disallow patent applications by legal entities such as GORTT, on 28th April 2008 I formally wrote the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs in respect of the filing in that jurisdiction as inventor and applicant. The US patent was filed on 11th July 2008, subsequently assigned to GORTT on 9th December 2008 and was finally awarded on 6th July 2010.
Further, since the AG in his public statements mentioned the “hijacking” of the G-Pan and accused me of selling G-Pans “left, right and center”, I can confirm that of the 84 G-Pans that were made:
1. 35 were sold to the National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) on a reimbursement basis;
2. 36 were distributed to 6 selected steelpans free of charge largely under a beta testing programme conducted in conjunction with the then Ministry of Community Development;
3. 3 were given to the Divine Echoes Orchestra;
4. One soprano pan was originally left for safe keeping following an appearance at the Percussive Arts Society International Conventionin the USA in late 2009 . It was eventually agreed that this pan could be put up for sale but to date that transaction has not been completed;
5. The remaining 9 G-pans are kept in house as part of our on going research and development activities.
Each manufactured G-Pan carries an inventory code and is logged in a simple database that records its date of manufacture, tuner and its delivery location.
I can also confirm the following:
1. Panadigm Innovations Limited (PIL), which was originally formed for the purpose of filing trademarks for items carded for commercialization by the SIP, was later used as the entity for all marketing of the PHI and the pre-May 2010 marketing of the G-Pan.
2. All 81 G-Pan Trademarks filed by PIL internationally have been assigned to GORTT by way of an agreement signed on 9th January 2009.
3. PIL’s single account shows only two relatively small deposits, and a balance that could at no time even purchase a good quality conventional tenor pan.
Anyone can apply for a license from GORTT to manufacture and sell G-Pans. Moreover, the fact that no G-Pans have been sold to date outside of those in the possession of the NSSO is very worrying in the light of the intentions set out in the aforementioned Cabinet Minute.
These matters were discussed in my detailed report submitted to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education and to the Ministry of the AG prior to the public allegations made by the AG, as well as in communications to various Ministers of Government over the past year. The issue of sales was specifically addressed in two communications sent over the past year to the Ministry of the AG in response to queries raised in its first letter to me dated 15th June2010.
The PHI is a new instrument that uses electronic synthesis technology to generate a virtually limitless range of sounds. The PHI is not a steelpan but a derivative steelpan technology – it has the look and feel of a steelpan but is a full-fledged electronic instrument, the first of its kind and a clear indication of the technological capability of our people. All PHIs were designed and made in Trinidad and Tobago by a team that includes young graduates primarily from the Faculty of Engineering at the UWI. A Trinidad and Tobago patent for the PHI was granted on 16th September 2009 to Brian Copeland, Keith Maynard, Marcel Byron and Earle Philip as owners and inventors.
In our formal response to the AG’s pre-protocol action letter, we have provided evidence that clearly shows that:
1.The PHI results from the combined efforts of all of its inventors over a period of time spanning almost all of their individual careers, a period of well over 24years.
2.The relevant inventive steps for the PHI were completed long before GORTT awarded the grant to the SIP.
3.The process of patenting the PHI had begun long before the SIP had been agreed to and its funding first released.
4.The GORTT grant to the SIP had been given
a. for the creation and commercialization of the G-Pan and
b.only to facilitate the commercialization of the other activities in the SIP that were already in progress at the commencement of the project. This includes the PHI.
We hope that this public statement has helped to reduce any confusion in the minds of the public and the attendant damage to our reputations resulting directly or indirectly from the statements made by the AG at the news conference on 8th July 2011.
On that note, I must express my bewilderment and disappointment that the GORTT, instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue as requested on more than one occasion, chose instead to take action that would hinder one of the most advanced knowledge-based/manufacturing initiatives ever undertaken to improve the nation’s development status through innovative activity. This has occurred at a time when GORTT is quite justifiably looking for ideas on how to strengthen the economy and improve its Global Competitiveness Index standing through new and innovative businesses.
Even as our understanding of the huge challenges involved in moving ideas to commercialization increases, the SIP is far past the stage of concept papers, talk shops and seminars – it is already well on the way to achieving the overarching objectives stated in the Cabinet Minute that established its grant funding. It is my hope that the hostility and apparent apathy under which it has operated thus far would give way to an atmosphere of dialogue and encouragement so that the SIP can deliver its promise of are invigorated steelpan industry to the nation and people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Brian Copeland (Professor)
Coordinator, Steelpan Initiatives Project
I hope this will clear some air w.r.t. each instrument.
Yes, Mke ... I agree that history will eventually support the truth, as you say. Even though it may take the opportunistic GORTT some time to get to that point.