Microsoft Corp. has unveiled an online intellectual property (IP) portal called the Microsoft 4Afrika IP Hub, in an effort to create an IP protection culture in Africa.
The IP Hub will offer developers and independent software vendors the skills and tools necessary to develop, protect and monetize their innovations. The portal will pilot in Kenya for two years, after which it will be handed over to the local government with similar pilots being rolled out to other African countries.
Most small businesses in Africa are relying on secrecy instead of using established copyright, trademark, trade name and patent programs to protect their valuable IP, making it vulnerable to exploitation. At the same time, worthy innovations miss out on the opportunity to be realized for the African continent, stifling its technology advancement and development of the knowledge economy.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), only 383 resident patent applications were filed in Kenya through the Patent Cooperation Treaty procedure or with the 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.
"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, Microsoft 4Afrika.
Innovators must have proof of ownership to be able to market or sell their innovation. Many do not know this, and for those that do, the process of filing IP protection can be long, manual and intimidating. The IP Hub will streamline and digitize the process, while educating young innovators about the importance of IP protection, and assisting them to enforce their ownership against third parties.
As John Waibochi, CEO of Kenya's Virtual City Group, a local innovator, said, "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."
"The Microsoft 4Afrika innovation goal is to bring to market and help African startups monetize their innovations and ideas, and allow them to make the right connection with investors," 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."