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Microsoft 4Afrika launches IP portal to empower innovators

In order to encourage invention in Africa, Microsoft has unveiled the intellectual property portal, the Microsoft 4Afrika IP Hub. Piloting in Kenya, the Hub will offer developers and software vendors the skills and tools necessary to develop, protect and monetise their innovations.

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It’s argued that most small businesses in Africa are relying on secrecy instead of using established copyright, trademark, trade name and patent programs for protection. This means that many technology advancements miss out on the opportunity to be realised.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation reiterates, finding that only 383 resident patent applications were filed in Kenya through the national patent office between 2009 and 2012. Similarly, that period only saw 683 resident patent applications filed in Egypt and only 608 in South Africa. In the US, about 268 000 resident patents were filed during the same time.

“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.

The process of filing IP protection can be long, manual and intimidating which is why the Hub will streamline and digitise the process. The Hub will also help educate and assist young innovators. The IP Hub will roll out to other African countries around 2016.

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.”

Otieno says that the Microsoft 4Afrika goal is to encourage local startups to market and monetise their innovations. He says, “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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