Posted by Robert Kayihura, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft
Today, we are celebrating World Intellectual Property Day, a global event that brings attention to the importance of intellectual property in encouraging innovation and creativity. This year’s theme is ‘Creativity: The Next Generation”.
This got me thinking –when we look at the next generation in Africa, what do we need to do to ensure they are able to be as creative as they possibly can be in solving future challenges?
Finding creativity in Africa certainly isn’t the challenge. Like anywhere in the world, people across the continent have been coming up with creative solutions to everyday challenges for centuries. People are naturally innovative and in Africa this is particularly evident when you look at the informal sector, where people have found extremely creative ways of making a living and addressing local needs and challenges.
New skills needed to use new tools
However, thanks to technology, there is far more potential to solve what were previously considered unsolvable problems. Think about all the breakthroughs we’ve seen in healthcare in the last decade. Yet, while information technology (IT) is more ubiquitous and continues to advance; the disconnect between the people who experience certain challenges and those that have the ability to solve them is widening. So while there may be an app for almost every purpose in the world; most people in Africa don’t own smartphones, and those that have challenges that could potentially be solved using IT also don’t have the means or in many cases the know-how to create relevant apps.
Local solutions to local challenges
This is why we are so passionate about supporting local developers, entrepreneurs and startups on the continent, and about ensuring the next generation has the skills and tools needed to empower themselves and contribute positively to society.
The realization of how important it is to support innovation in Africa is largely what has informed our recently launched 4Afrika Initiative. We started noticing through our work across the continent that a huge number of young people were really set on coming up with their own solutions to local challenges. While many of them succeeded without any help, these encouraging trends confirm what we’ve observed in other parts of the world – the most effective way to solve challenges in Africa, is to support the continent’s young people, aspiring entrepreneurs, and the regions small and midsize businesses by helping them access the devices and IT services they need to do the ‘problem-solving’. After all, this is a far more sustainable approach!
The missing ingredient
But there is one thing missing from this mix that is necessary to support a strong culture of innovation: a widespread understanding of the concept of intellectual property (IP), and a respect for the protection of ideas.
Last month in Tanzania African Ministers gathered to discuss the role of innovation as a driving force of social, economic, and environmental development. Countries that are highly innovative have greater development potential, and the protection of IP is central to ensuring the link between the two.
Recently I wrote about how important IP is to start-ups, and how strong IP legislation can really make all the difference when it comes to attracting investors. As I noted, inventions protected by patents are worth on average 200% more than unprotected inventions. For African entrepreneurs to have the chance to take their ideas to market and compete against global companies, they must have the assurance that all their hard work will not be stolen from them.
So this World IP Day, I urge you to consider the place innovation has in your life and in the future success of Africa – and to spread the word about how important it is for us to collectively support the culture of innovation that is already rooted in our history.