The Importance of Intellectual Property for The African Continent & Why Brands Should Be Paying Attention

By Daniel Anti, Bird & Bird

There’s no doubt that Intellectual Property (IP) is a key driver in the promotion and creation of innovation, economic growth and, some might argue, a ‘better world’. For the continent of Africa, there has for a time now been (and no doubt we will continue to see) a sharp surge in technological advancement and economic transformation which has led to and resulted from the creation of IP.

Whilst the continent itself consists of a vast number of countries, and there are individual and specific considerations (political, systematic, historical and other wise) for each of them which should never be ignored, the innovation trend nonetheless taken as a whole is on an upward curve.

Brands within Africa and outside of it should consider what changes and advancements on the continent mean for them in the making, exploitation and protection of their IP.

Growing trend of entrepreneurship, innovation and investment

It is clear that the continent of Africa has an abundant wealth of talent, skill, and natural and human resources which renders its countries forces to be reckoned with in the global market. There is a growing movement of exciting entrepreneurship that has become prominent with many seeking to confront issues head-on through new technology.

For example, we are seeing increasing numbers of successful start-ups in the energy, electronic payments, healthcare and waste management sectors that have attracted substantial foreign and local investment. According to the ‘Africa Tech Venture Capital Report 2022’ produced by Partech Africa, in 2022 African tech start-ups alone raised a total of US$6.5B (+8% YoY) in 764 deals despite a global economic crisis and a dramatic slowdown in the venture capital landscape.

With such entrepreneurship comes the question of IP and the need for businesses and individuals to sufficiently protect and exploit their intellectual creations and brands to ensure they reap the benefits of their creativity and reputation.

Preservation of traditions and cultural expressions

There are rich cultural traditions on the continent which have been important to the way of life in many African countries. IP systems and mechanisms are key in protecting geographical indications and expressions of cultural heritage that assist in empowerment at a local level and the protection of African identity.

Increased competitiveness on a global scale

The impact of African businesses is evident on a global scale. It’s vital these businesses seek to manage and protect their IP internationally allowing them to: license out their product offerings; access new markets, create employment opportunities; increase market competitiveness; engage in strategic partnerships, franchising opportunities, mergers and  acquisitions; and safeguard their consumers.

Take the music and entertainment scene for example. With genres such as Ampiano and Afrobeats becoming a soundtrack for those around the world, artists should be aware of the steps they can take to proactively protect their works and brand to leverage and maintain their popularity.

Final word

IP will continue to play a key role in Africa over the coming years and this article only scratches the surface of the relevance of IP for the continent’s businesses and those entering the African market.