FEATURE: Importance of intellectual property to startups

Africa has seen a surge in technology startups in the past five years, though some entrepreneurs have lost out due to lack of knowledge of intellectual property (IP) rights and how to wade small businesses through legal waters.

During the Legal/Tech meet up at the Nailab in Nairobi last Friday, advocates with backgrounds in company registration and intellectual property spoke to budding techprenuers on how to steer their business away from negative legal implications.

Isaac Rutenberg, who is an intellectual property advocate and also a lecturer at Strathmore University, clarified three kinds of intellectual property, the first one being copyright, which is automatic at the point of publishing. Although it is instant, Rutenberg urges the authors of works of art to register their works with the relevant authorities. Such registration would cost approximately KSh1,000 (approx US$12)

The second category is the trademark, which include symbols or logos used in companies on their products. Rutenberg said it could take KSh10,000 (approx US$114) to KSh15,000 (approx US171) to register a trademark.

The last and most powerful of intellectual property registrations is the patent, which covers inventions on all fields. According to Rutenberg, this type of intellectual property is expensive to secure and takes a lot of time. He explains that some of the fees will go to lawyers.

Most emerging companies also get themselves into trouble as they lack proper engagement mechanisms with partners and external investors. The Legal/Tech meet-up urged techies to seek credible legal advice when drafting company documents whether within or without.

From the outset, companies need to engage a lawyer when registering their companies and the articles of association and memorandum, as it will safeguard participating partners from possible disputes in the future.

Pivot East 2013 organisers have also arranged for a similar meetup where the issues of intellectual property will be discussed by Dr Derek Palmer, the Managing Director of ProspectIP, a UK-based IP management company.

Posted in: Startups

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