Put a stamp on your ideas! Why intellectual property matters

By Louis Otieno, Legal & Compliance Director at Microsoft 4Afrika 

African innovation has been around for centuries, even millennia. A method to harness fire was invented in South Africa 1.4 million years ago.  In Ethiopia, underground water pipes were created in 1460 BC. In more recent times Africa has also been home to the advent of the modern Kreepy Krauly, an automatic pool cleaner, and the CAT scan. 

The massive growth of the internet and proliferation of new devices, has provided an incredible platform for innovators to unleash their ideas, and African innovation is flourishing like never before. 

But, unfortunately, it also allows for ideas to be easily stolen, unless they are protected by intellectual property (IP). Many entrepreneurs are at risk of having their ideas taken by larger companies and some don’t know how to monetise and protect them. That’s why Microsoft 4Afrika launched the first Intellectual Property Portal, the 4Afrika IP Hub, in Kenya, to give innovators the resources and connections to protect their ideas, and take them to market. In November, Microsoft partnered with Thomson Reuters to host an IP protection event to promote innovation across East African markets. 

Below, five successful innovators explain how protecting their IP is fundamental to their own growth, and to the economic development of their country’s too. 

 Tayeb Sbihi, Morocco.  CEO and founder of B2N Consulting and co-founder of iTaxi.ma , a mobile application that recently won a Microsoft 4Afrika Innovation Grant award.  

“Intellectual property is your competitive advantage.”

“Instead of concentrating all your efforts in creating a prototype or a product, you need to take time to look around you and the different IP that already exists. Then try to have your work protected so that nobody can steal or use it.” 

“IP can be either the product you design, the way you design it or any component that makes the product.”  

Kate Kiguru, Kenya . Founder of Ukall and a 4Afrika Innovation Grant winner.

“A lot of people feel IP will protect them from direct competition and misrepresentation. I look at it differently; if an idea or a product has someone closely trying to replicate it, then it’s evidence it has value and there is a need for it. I look at the competitors or people trying to replicate the idea as followers.”

“IP is a great option if you feel the need to protect an idea or product but don’t let it distract you too much from your key focus, and later you find out someone has already executed your idea.”

 Abiola Olaniran, Nigeria . Founder and CEO of Gamsole, a Windows game development company and 4Afrika innovation grant winner

“By protecting your ideas through copyright and patents, you ensure that you will be maximizing your benefits of originality. Registering your ideas for a patent or copyright protects you and your creative work.”

“Protect your work, it’s all you have. Before releasing even a good line of code online, make sure it’s copyrighted. This way, you can lay claim to it later. Computer software may result in more than one piece of property. For example, for a software product, the source code is a property, as can be the preparatory design material for it, its general organization and its user interface. Bearing this in mind can help you effectively protect your creation.”

“As a software developer, when you write a computer program, you are creating a kind of property. By default, this property will be owned by somebody. If you’re employed by a company, your good lines of codes are owned by your employer.”

Owiti Gordon Ochieng, Microsoft DPE intern and Developer of the Month

 “IP protection sparks motivation towards creative thinking enabling more individuals to come up with great ideas.”

 Kaakpema Yelpaala, Uganda . Founder of access.mobile and 4Afrika innovation grant winner

“There are some areas of IP protection that play an important role in access.mobile’s work.  We rely on trade secrets, trademarks and copyright laws as well as WIPO’s global framework to protect key aspects of our IP and brand.”

If you are an innovator, remember that protecting your ideas doesn’t only serve you, but your country and the continent at large. Let’s build Africa’s great new inventions together.