by Seno Namwandi
Intellectual Property has various types of rights under its umbrella. Patents tend to be on the far spectrum of strictness and have one of the highest returns on investment for companies through licensing agreements. On the other end of the spectrum are trade secrets, which are governed by contractual agreements, these tend to be more fluid in nature and therefore more difficult to protect, control and manage.
Patents are defined as a monopolistic right granted by a government entity to an inventor or innovator over a creation for a period of 20 years. This creation has to satisfy three criteria:
Novelty - new and not present in any of the prior art (all existing information on the subject matter).
Industrial applicability - reproducible in various units, i.e. it cannot be merely a theoretical concept.
Inventive step (Non-obvious) - the invention should be considered a breakthrough within its respective field. The inclusion of such a requirement ensures that information that is known to any individual with ordinary skills in that field is not protected.
A proactive approach towards patents is critical in the knowledge economy. Patents are incredibly useful for many reasons both defensively and offensively. For defensive purposes, patents ensure a percentage of the market share for a period of time. This allows is the company to recoup its investment in the resources it ploughed into developing the invention/innovation. Offensively, patents enable a bargaining chip that allows for licensing agreements. Patent licensing has been a trusted additional revenue for many a company. Typically this takes on the form of companies offering their know-how in development in exchange for royalties.
Patents in Africa have been grossly underutilized mostly from lack of awareness and secondly from the lack of understanding about how to maximize the potential. The lack of awareness is evident in how patents are spoken about with elements of idea expression that do not qualify for patent protection. It is often said, “We need to patent that business idea” or asked, “Can we patent that name?”
Patents are reserved for inventions or innovations that meet the above criteria. On the African continent, various options are possible. Patents serve technical, technological and software developments. It would be wise to look at how to invent and innovate around the building of the infrastructural gaps we continually struggle with in technical ways. For instance, developments around sanitation and solar energy require new technology that is able to operate in our context. For instance, the engineering needed to develop waterless toilets would be eligible for patent protection. The patent would enable them to own a market share and then also position the company to act as a leader to license that technology to upcoming smaller sanitation companies and better yet, larger companies looking to enter into the eco-sector.
Patents are a valuable investment we need to utilize more aggressively to make a more substantial case to own market share before other countries take advantage of our unprotected technologies.
Seno Namwandi is one of the pioneers of Intellectual Property (IP) in Namibia. Her recent achievement was being selected as 1 of 16 Mandela Washington Fellows from Namibia for 2018. She currently serves as the youngest director on the board of the Business Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA) in Namibia. Seno is also employed full time at the International University of Management (IUM) where she serves as the Director of Innovation and IP. Seno has a Masters degree in IP from Africa University, Zimbabwe and other postgraduate certifications in IP. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. LINKEDIN | EMAIL
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