African innovators face a difficult battle within the continent. Save for a few who are able to win innovation prizes or attract foreign investors, innovating in Africa is often a fruitless endeavor.
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This is because African innovators find it hard to secure and transform their idea into marketable assets and this easily explains why news of African innovations are common enough at the ideation stages but little is heard of them or their successes in commercialization afterward.
A little help is coming to African innovators as African countries are beginning to automate their intellectual property registration (IP) processes. This move to automate will make it easier for the enterprising innovator to secure and transform their innovations into marketable assets.
It is a process that could play a role in transforming the fortunes on the continent as individuals and organizations will find it easier to secure and commercialize their innovations.
The online intellectual property registration system for African inventors began in Kenya and was successful enough that it is now to be replicated across 18 other African countries. Microsoft is backing the automation process in collaboration with IP authorities. In June 2015, through the IP Hub platform, the system was first developed and tested by Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative and the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo).
The online intellectual property registration will replace the lengthy and costly manual processes that involved submission of paper-based applications.
Those manual submissions took a long time to be validated before the submissions were approved or rejected; and because of this, many African countries were drawn to the bottom of the global chart on intellectual property registrations, denying the continent any opportunity that would have risen from securing and commercializing their innovations.
Louis Otieno, a director at Microsoft4Afrika who is optimistic about the effect of automated IP registration to African innovators said in an emailed statement to Quartz:
“Every country in Africa is committed to accelerating its economic growth and becoming globally competitive. The monetization of innovation is key and an early step is the registration of the intellectual property.”
Intellectual property protection including issuing copyrights, patents and trademarks are needful in enabling individuals or small businesses generate investment and stay ahead of their competition, but intellectual property protection is so poor in Africa that products often die away before they can be protected.
Africa cannot fulfill its potential of being a new frontier for innovation and in turn, investment and economic growth, if the issue of intellectual property protection is not addressed.
Hopefully, African innovators will get the help they need with this new process of automation.