Microsoft has launched its 4Africa IP Hub in Kenya in an attempt to create an intellectual property protection culture on the continent.
The project will be piloted in Kenya for two years, after which point it will be handed over to the government and the programme will be extended to other African countries.
“Most small businesses in Africa are relying on secrecy instead of using established copyright, trademark, trade name and patent programmes to protect their valuable IP, making it vulnerable to exploitation,” Microsoft said.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), only 283 resident patent applications were filed in Kenya through the Patent Cooperation Treaty procedure or National Patent Office between 2009 and 2012.
“Similarly, only 683 resident patent applications were filed in Egypt; 608 in South Africa; and a mere 53 resident patent applications were filed by resident inventors in the Ivory Coast. In contrast, approximately 268,000 resident patents were filed in the United States during the same period,” the company said.
“Most African innovators function on the premise that the idea is theirs until someone else takes it to market, or duplicates it. As Africa’s innovation continues to flourish, the future remains uncertain if these promising ideas are not supported and protected properly,” said Louis Otieno, director for legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft 4Afrika.
Innovators must have proof of ownership to be able to market or sell their innovation. According to Microsoft individuals that are aware of this find the processes involved in intellectual property protection long and intimidating.
“IP protection has played an important role in the foundation and growth of our business. From when it was just in the idea stage, we registered it through our IP lawyers with the relevant authorities. 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,” said John Waibochi, chief executive officer (CEO) of Kenya’s Virtual City Group.
Commenting on the 4Africa IP programme, 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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