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SMEs should protect their intellectual property assets to remain competitive

Uganda joined the rest of the world on April 26 to mark the World Intellectual Property day.

This day is designated by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a global forum for intellectual property (IP) services, policy, information and cooperation, to raise awareness and learn about the role of intellectual property (IP) rights in encouraging creativity and innovation.

For this year, the theme focused on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), IP & SMEs- Taking your Ideas to the Market. SMEs are the backbone of Uganda’s economy. They are key drivers in fostering innovation, wealth creation and job creation in Uganda.

According to the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Policy, SMEs employ 2.5 million people who account for approximately 90 per cent of the entire private sector. This group contributes 20 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

SMEs are the major source of technological innovation and new products. They constitute an important sector in manufacturing, services and agriculture/agro-businesses engaged in local, regional and international businesses.

SMEs are, however, faced with myriad of obstacles including global financing, digital divide, knowledge deficiency, negative socio-cultural perceptions, product certification and standardisation.

These challenges negatively impact on the competitiveness of SMEs in the global value chain. SMEs should use their intellectual property assets in their strategies to address some of these challenges.

Intellectual property rights are defined by WIPO as creations of the human mind.

Article 2(viii)) of the WIPO Convention provides that “intellectual property shall include rights relating to: literary, artistic and scientific works, performances of performing artists, phonograms and broadcasts, inventions in all fields of human endeavor, scientific discoveries, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks and commercial names and designations, protection against unfair competition, and all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields.

Intellectual property rights are classified into two categories as industrial property and copyright. Industrial property includes trademarks, patents, industrial designs, geographical indications and trade secrets while copyright concerns literary, artistic and scientific works.

Intellectual property is an important business asset to an enterprise. SMEs should use IP by turning ideas into business opportunities, generate value, create employment and enrich the choice of products available to consumers through the use of various IP tools.

Through trademarks, SMEs are in position to build strong brands and differentiate their goods and services in the marketplace. Industrial designs serve to create appealing and attractive products to the customers.

Patents or utility models give exclusive rights to a particular technology which can be commercially exploited to solve a technical problem in the market.

In this digital era, where reproduction and distribution of copyrightable material has been made much easier, copyright should be used to protect digital content generated by SMEs. Using the IP tools will help SMEs get back on the path of economic recovery amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, which has financially crippled almost every business.

How SMEs will emerge from the downturn felt in all angles of the economy, will largely depend on their strategies to ensure that they remain competitive and survive the dilapidating effects of the pandemic.

Intellectual property should be part of any business strategy and the odds shall be in favour of those who play their cards well using creativity and innovation.

The author is an IP lawyer pursuing a Master of Philosophy in Intellectual Property of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

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