By Emeka Aginam
Following the successful trial in Kenya, the software giant, Microsoft handed over the source code for an online intellectual property (IP) registration system to IP authorities across Africa, including the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO).

The online registration system replaces the traditional manual process of submitting paper-based forms, making the registration of IP fast, accessible and more efficient

Microsoft 4Afrika is handing over the source code to an online automated IP registration system, to help IP authorities across Africa drive a culture of IP protection.

The system was first developed and tested by Microsoft 4Afrika, through their IP Hub initiative, and KECOBO in June last year.

The ready-to-scale and proven model will now be shared with authorities in 18 countries across Africa, in collaboration with COMESA, to support their commitments towards IP protection.

“The system that KECOBO was privileged to pilot worked well during the trial. KECOBO saw over a 100% jump in registrations in the June – October period when the system was running,” Edward Kipsigei, CEO of KECOBO, explained, adding that, “As a result of the test, KECOBO will shortly commission a fully online registration system based on the prototype. My office highly recommends the adoption of the system by those states that will benefit from the source code. At KECOBO we remain ready to share our experiences with other IP offices.”

The countries within COMESA whose IP authorities will receive the source code from Microsoft include: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Also speaking on the new development, COMESA Secretary General Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya said that, “This is good news to our region given that all our member states are covered,”. “Specifically, it will bolster our science, technology and innovation programme to further the COMESA regional integration agenda.”

For Louis Otieno, Corporate Affairs Director of Microsoft 4Afrika, “Every country in Africa is committed to accelerating its economic growth and becoming globally competitive. Because we live in the information age, a critical aspect of achieving this is the monetisation of IP.

“We created the online registration system as a way to jump-start this process and help close the structural gap. To now ensure its sustainability, we look forward to seeing local IP authorities own the process and the technology, which will only require minor customizations on our end.”

“When the registration process becomes more accessible, fast and reliable, it also becomes more attractive. With the online system, we hope to see the number of copyright and other IP applications rise in the coming years,”

IP protection, including patents, trademarks and copyrights, are essential for small businesses to get ahead of their competitors, generate investment and ultimately bring their ideas to market. However, many innovations in Africa do not come to fruition due to of lack of knowledge about, and red tape around, registering IP.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), resident applications for patents in various African countries are still low. In 2014, there were 752 patent applications in Egypt, 132 in Kenya, 14 in Zambia and only 5 in Rwanda, compared to over 280,000 in the U.S. and 19,000 in the United Kingdom. At the same time the registration of copyright in many African states has not taken off and this data is not taken into account in economic surveys.

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