Only 383 resident patents were filed within Kenya in the period between 2009 and 2012 according to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a figure Louis Otieno, director for Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft 4Afrika calls ridiculously low in a world where developed countries are doing hundreds of thousands. Egypt had 683, South Africa with 608 while Ivory Coast with a mere 53 resident patent applications by inventors. This figure is a steep contrast with the US where 268,000 resident permits were filed.
This is not to mean that the developing countries are innovating in small numbers, but that they are not protecting their ideas and thus exposing themselves to exploitation as a result of not protecting their IP. They instead are relying n secrecy instead of using copyright, trademark, trade name and patent programs. This leads in worthy innovations missing out on the opportunity to be realized for th African continent and in effect stifling technology advancement of the knowledge economy.
“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.
It’s in light of this that Microsoft under the 4Afrika programme launched the 4Afrika IP Hub, a portal that seeks to grow the IP protection culture in Africa. Developers and content creators will register themselves and access skills and tools to develop, protect and monetize their innovations. This will be a two year pilot by Microsoft, first in Kenya after which the portal will be handed over to the local government and the same be replicated in other African countries.
The IP Hub will streamline and digitize the process of IP protection filing, a process that can be long, manual and intimidating and Microsoft has taken the commitment to take the innovators though the journey to get this done, even in the courts. The Hub will also take the role of educating young innovators about the importance of IP protection and assist them enforce ownership against third parties.
Virtual City CEO John Waiboci was one of the entrepreneurs who spoke fondly of registering IP and explained the benefits they possess by virtue of having registered their IP at an early stage, a process that was quite tedious. “IP protection has played an important role in the foundation and growth of our business. From when it was just an idea we registered it through our IP lawyers with the relevant authorities, a process that allowed us grow to where we are today. Our technology belongs to us.”