Can Africa Support An Intellectual Property Protection Culture?

By Dana Sanchez Published: June 30, 2014, 5:44 pm

Intellectual property protection has played an important role in the growth and foundation of Kenyan innovator Virtual City Group.

The company seeks to aid communication between farmers, wholesalers, retailers, field sales teams, stakeholders and partners through access to business intelligence via mobile devices.

“From when it was just in the idea stage, we registered it through our IP lawyers with the relevant authorities,” said Virtual City CEO John Waibochi. “This has allowed us to grow to where we are today, and ensures that our technology remains in the hands of Africans, for Africa and the world.”

Most small businesses in Africa rely on secrecy instead of using established patent, copyright, trade name and trademark programs to protect intellectual property, making them vulnerable to exploitation, says U.S. software giant Microsoft.

An unwillingness by African innovators to file patents means worthy technology is going unrealized in Africa, stifling technological advancement and development of the knowledge economy, according to Microsoft.

In Kenya, just 383 resident patent applications were filed between 2009 and 2012 through the Patent Cooperation Treaty procedure or with the national patent office, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reports, according to a Microsoft press release. Just 683 resident patent applications were filed in Egypt; 608 in South Africa; and 53 in the Ivory Coast. By comparison, about 268,000 resident patents were filed in the U.S. during that period.

Microsoft said it has unveiled an online intellectual property portal –Microsoft 4Afrika IP Hub — in an effort to create an intellectual property protection culture in Africa. It says the IP Hub will give independent software vendors and developers the skills and tools needed to develop, monetize and protect their innovations. After a two-year pilot in Kenya, it will be given to the government. Similar pilots will be launched in other African countries.

“Most African innovators function on the premise that the idea is theirs until someone else
takes it to market, or duplicates it,” said Louis Otieno, director for Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft 4Afrika, in a prepared statement. “As Africa’s innovation continues to flourish, the future remains uncertain if these promising ideas are not supported and protected properly.”

The goal of Microsoft 4Afrika is to help African startups monetize their innovations and ideas, make the right connection with investors, and bring their ideas to market, Otieno said. “Protecting intellectual property ultimately leads to wealth creation and economic growth, and encourages development of knowledge-based industries. We designed the IP Hub to play a critical role in empowering African innovators and spurring this growth.”


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