IP & start-ups in Zimbabwe

IP & start-ups in Zimbabwe

Start-ups often create new ways of doing things and as such Intellectual Property (“IP”) becomes a very important subject that deserves the attention of anyone who is pursuing a new business venture geared towards benefiting from the current “Open for Business” mantra. Intellectual Property Rights refer to the exclusive rights associated with the creations of the mind which result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields.

With the help of MoreBlessing Muresherwa Sithole, an IP practitioner this week we will focus on how Zimbabweans should endeavour to take full advantage of the IP laws to provide protection to their business ideas and processes. IP should be considered as very important even for small upcoming startups as they grow so do the value of their IPs. If our entrepreneurs play their IP cards right Zimbabwe can start reaping the benefits of strategic utilisation of IP to enhance technologically driven economic development.

Zimbabwe has made significant strides in promoting intellectual property rights and this has been witnessed by the availability of national laws to do with Intellectual Property. On June 28 2018 the Zimbabwe National Intellectual Property Policy and Implementation Strategy (2018-2022) was launched by the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare to spur innovation and creativity in several sectors of the economy. However, not everyone is aware of this, least of all the startups and entrepreneurs who should benefit the most from its implementation.

There are organisations such as the Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Office (ZIPO) which is available and ready to provide help on the registration of Intellectual Property rights in Zimbabwe. Other organisations include the African Regional and Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), which recently launched a database of all patents, trademarks and designs for sub-Saharan Africa. You can access it here http://regionalip.aripo.org.

Zimbabwe has come a long way and is raising awareness on IP matters. The country participates in the world events such as the World intellectual Property day held on April 26 every year. The country also participates in regional seminars done by ARIPO. Zimbabwe is so much privileged to host the Masters in Intellectual Property (MIP) at the Africa University (AU) in Mutare which is now in its eleventh year. It was established through a partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), ARIPO and AU. According to the ARIPO Directory of Intellectual Property experts as of June 2018, Zimbabwe has 66 graduates who are capable of helping the country in the development of intellectual property systems and IP management.

Zimbabwe is Open for Business
Under the new political dispensation, the government is on a drive to open Zimbabwe for business and is not only targeting foreign investors, but the locals who are encouraged to grab the opportunity to increase domestic production and grow their businesses. It is in this context that local Entrepreneurs need to register their intellectual property rights because as the Zimbabwe market grows some foreigners will start to take notice and will move in to identify local inventions with international appeal. What can start-ups do? Start-ups and local entrepreneurs should seek professional advice before disclosing their processes or formulations to investors. Innovation and creativity are crucial elements that help as the foundation upon which Zimbabwe will continue to nurture and grow its economy.

Intellectual Property Rights as an investment for entrepreneurs
Intellectual Property Assets (IP Assets) are considered as the driving force in business development but often entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and even investors fail to understand the unique significance of the IP system as a strategic business asset. IP should be considered as part of any start-up company’s value. The creation of new technologies can help stretch the limits of what is possible today and can lead to the development of new business models to make the world more efficient and interconnected. Start-ups help us by continuously reinventing, rethinking, and reimagining how things are done.

Organisations such as Tech Hub or any innovation hubs for that matter can provide assistance to entrepreneurs who are not knowledgeable about the use of IP system by doing the following:

◊ Lead in encouraging and promoting the protection of innovation; it is true most people’s brilliant ideas are lost in unnecessary disclosure without protection.

◊ Innovation Hubs act as a space that enables gifted people, usually the youth to gather together and cultivate technology based products and services. At the end these people can become programmers, designers, scientists or anyone with a product or business idea. It is necessary to provide access to such participants and make it easy for them to innovate.

◊ Through hackathons, Innovation hubs can promote innovation forums to empower the youth to exploit their creative potential and access to financial resources for the start-ups and business development.

Benefits of IP system
It is not always obvious to see the benefits of innovation and IP.

◊ IP assets are a company’s most valuable property and promote social, economic, technological and cultural development.

◊ IP is protected by law against unauthorised use and safeguard investments in the development of industry/culture

◊ IP protects moral interests of authors and inventors

Zimbabwe balanced approach
Despite the recent progress in IP awareness, Zimbabwe has some way to go before it catches up with other African global leaders in the IP issues such as Kenya and South Africa who are always on top according to the Global Innovation Index.

Zimbabwe will require collaborative actions in developing innovative
solutions to industrial challenges by consumers, businesses, and the education sector and government organisations along with other market participants.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe government through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development availed $15 million to build a strong ecosystem of innovation in the education sector by the establishment of operational innovation hubs. These universities are namely National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Midlands State University (MSU), University of Zimbabwe, (UZ) Harare Institute of Technology (HIT), Zimbabwe Defence University and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT).

Collaboration is important
Private innovation hubs, such as TechHub in Zimbabwe can also work hand in hand with these government-led innovation hubs so that there is stimulation of innovation and creativity and promote job creation and wealth creation through collaboration. Entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe should take advantage of the IP laws and support mechanisms in the country to create and defend their value. When Intellectual Property is protected, it gains concrete value and become IP rights that cannot be commercialised, used, exploited without the authorisation of the owner. Zimbabwe government today should continue to realise the importance of IP and making full use of it to drive the economy.

This article was facilitated by Tech Hub Harare. We are reachable [email protected] or via our website http://www.cowork.co.zw This article was compiled by MoreBlessing Muresherwa Sithole. She is an intellectual property scholar and professional based in Harare, holds a Masters in Intellectual Property and a Btech in Financial Engineering. Feedback: [email protected]; Cell: +263 773 023 475