- OtienoLouis Onyango Otieno is a Director with Microsoft 4Afrika - a strategic initiative by Microsoft Corporation focused on supporting Africa's development towards global competitiveness. He is responsible for Government & Corporate Affairs. He spoke with Africa Enterprise on Microsoft's plans for intellectual property protection in Africa
(Interview by Simbo Olorunfemi)
AFRICA IS THE FIRST, NOT THE LAST FRONTIER
The comment about Africa being the last frontier is interesting. If I may ask, Africa is the last frontier for who? I argue that Africa is the first frontier for Africans and I will be very clear why I mean this. The fact remains that Africa trades with itself at only 12%. That is a sad situation given there are about One billion people in Africa. There are not only a billion people, they are a young one billion people, which means that there is a market today and there is a market in the future.
Entrepreneurship, to me, is basically commercialising ideas that are either products or services. But there are a lot of things I worry about with young people being able to make a success of entrepreneurship – what I imagine is important is the fact that they need to focus on relevance, because one thing we are blessed with here in Africa is what people call challenges. I call them opportunities. If they focus on relevant solutions and products, but keep in mind the notion of sustainability and scalability, I agree that money will follow. They should really focus right now on looking around in Africa, finding the opportunities or the so-called challenges, translate that into products and services and come up with world-class solutions for those things. The most critical thing they must do is to protect their intellectual properties, because as soon as they are able to protect that intellectual property, trust me, to use your words, those from elsewhere will be looking at it as the last bastion or the last opportunity. Instead of just looking for a market, they will be looking to find a market of opportunities or solutions which they will want to be a part of, and for that, they will pay, but they will only pay if they know they have no option but to pay for it. They will have no option to pay for it, when it's already been protected in terms of intellectual property.
So, there is a lot of work we are doing in support of 4Afrika in innovation where we are trying to ensure that these organisations as they go about creating solutions and products, as they go about being entrepreneurs, which is basically translating ideas or commercialising it for income, they need to ensure simultaneously, if not sooner, that they have protected their intellectual properties.
WHAT MICROSOFT IS DOING
We have initiatives across the regions. One of them is what we call IP Hub, which basically has 5 components – one component is Awareness, letting everybody understand what is IP. What is copyright? What is patent? What is trademark? Basic stuff, what does the country's laws say about those things? How do you go about that doing them? That is one thing, that is just awareness.
The second thing is Registration
– where do I go to register my intellectual property, now that I understand what it is or what particularly I want to do.
The third part of it is what I call Enforcement. How do you enforce your rights upon registering it, when somebody is violating it? The fourth component of it is commercialising it. Once you are able to demonstrate your ownership of it through registration and sometimes enforcement, how do you go about commercialising it? It is not automatic that I should I sell my company, which I think is the default position that Africans have. It can be about how do I earn royalties? You come to me and use my intellectual property and pay me royalties. It is not always about selling.
The last part of it is this - because you have become a serial IP creator, investors begin to hear about you and they begin to see you as a person they can invest in, as opposed to you seeking opportunities to demonstrate what you are offering. But if you are a serial person and you are registered and you have plenty of intellectual properties registered, it is easier for these investors, at anytime to find you, and therefore invest in you. So, for us, it is about pushing awareness, registration, enforcement, monetisation and investment.
We have an online platform for all of that. We have done one in Kenya already. We are working on one in South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria, and we are also working with organisations such as COMESA, ECOWAS, AU with whom we can create a platform that will allow for that to be done on a universal basis. From an investor point of view, I would be interested in investing in a place where intellectual property is protected across a large territory.
80% OF MICROSOFT'S SOFTWARE IN USE IN AFRICA IS PIRATED
I have done Microsoft business for 19 years now, I can tell you that as much as there has been a lot of growth in business, we are still doing that in an environment that only pays at 20%. Eighty percent of our software is pirated, as we speak here in Africa. But I see that as an opportunity, that is the way I look at it. I see the need to get users to appreciate the notion of intellectual property, the protection thereof, and the reason why they should pay for it, just like they do in terms of real property, but we have to do a better job in explaining why they should do that. And there is a reason for that - in the world of technology, when you end up with software that is not legitimate, you are exposing your business to danger. As IT becomes critical to your business, you are literally faced with big risks, like shutting down your service, business or operations. You can't afford to do that, and the only way to do that is to ensure that you are using protected intellectual property.