Africa’s inventors shackled by bad IP regimes

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Patenting law in Africa needs to become more effective to better support local entrepreneurs and boost growth, the continent’s innovators have said.

Attendants at the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) event, which honours inventors from African countries, told SciDev.Net that they struggle to turn their ideas into business because of weak patenting legislation.

Early-career entrepreneurs trying to patent their products in Africa face high legal costs, arbitrary bureaucratic processes and legislative mismatches between countries, they said.

The IPA was awarded during a two-day event in Skhirat, Morocco, on 12 and 13 May. Among the ten finalists this year, three had weak or no intellectual property protection, says Pauline Mujawamariya, the director of the African Innovation Foundation, which looks after the prize.

Inventors across Africa complain that the patent process is slow, costly and complicated. One stumbling block is that intellectual property rights are often territorial, and laws differ even within the same country. In Tanzania, the island region Zanzibar has different IP laws than the mainland, says MacLean Sibanda, a South African patent lawyer.

As a result of such complications, many African innovators look beyond the continent for patent protection. Moroccan programmer Mohammed Said Abdelouahad, 23, has designed a rhythm-based app for online authentication that collects all your passwords and activates them by tapping on the screen. A personal tap is harder to crack than characters, he says.

It took Abdelouahad six months of internet research to figure out how to file a patent in the United States, his market of choice. Eventually, he found a California-based Moroccan lawyer who filed the patent for him for a US$2,500 fee, low for a lawyer but expensive for a young African entrepreneur.

“We are programmers, we don’t know how to draft an application, and information is not easily accessible,” says Abdelouahad.
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Source: SciDevNet 21 May 2015