Posted by Robert Kayihura, Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs, West, East, Central Africa (WECA), Microsoft

Imagine you’re in charge of a multinational organization. Some of you may be already, but most of us aren’t that lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view). But imagine that you are the CEO of ‘You Corp’. You and your board want to expand your business into different countries and sell your product to new customers. What three things should you look for in order to ensure your business takes off?

First, you’re looking for demand. If your company is not offering something that customers want, you may need to rethink your plans. Let’s assume You Corp’s product is the best in its category and something a lot of consumers want to own.

Second, you need a supply chain. You’ll be importing your goods at first (maybe forever), and you need assurance that your new market or region has a transportation network and customs infrastructure that can support truck-loads of your product coming in and landing on store shelves in good time.

For some, the third factor may come as a surprise: make sure your intellectual property (IP) will be protected. IP is essential for business success, regardless of product or geography. IP protection safeguards four very important assets: patents (your inventions); trademarks (the symbols and other designs that distinguish your product or company); trade secrets (the confidential business intelligence that gives your company a competitive advantage); and copyrights (works of authorship that lead to successful books, films, music and other creative expressions).

‘But IP merely funnels riches to the already-rich!’

Not so. The protection of IP is as important to start-up companies as it is to large and wealthy multinational organizations. IP protection is what gives small and start-up ventures the confidence to compete against more established firms; it offers the assurance that their investment of time, effort and money will be protected and ultimately rewarded with the growth and success they deserve. In fact, when it comes to start-up companies, their entire value is often based on their IP, and attracting funding is dependent on how well that IP is protected. This makes IP a primary factor in attracting outside investment - and that, after all, is an important way to stimulate national and regional economies not just in Africa, but across the world.

The importance of IP to economic development 

It is well established that inventions protected by patents are worth on average 200% more than unprotected inventions. This doesn’t just mean more profit, it means more start-up capital, new and high paying jobs and services, and the creation of new industries. In turn, this all leads to increased economic growth and development which ultimately benefits society as a whole.

At the end of the day, IP protection is about fair competition. With a fair and level playing field, talented individuals, as well as small and mid-sized companies across Africa, will not only compete successfully against wealthy and more established multi-national companies, they will create jobs, improve people’s lives and help transform the region.