The business domain is a complex and interconnected community of ideas and individuals constantly interacting and being exposed to one another. As such, laws and regulations need to be in place to govern businesses and their intellectual assets.
These laws fall under the collective category of Intellectual Property Laws and can be categorized into 4 main types: Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Contracts (e.g., confidentiality and non-use agreements)
with third parties (e.g., contractors). Intellectual Property covers everything ranging from the name of a business to its web domain (yes you read correctly- just because you paid for the website does not mean it legally belongs to you).
JiNan Glasgow, US Patent and Copyright lawyer and CEO of Neopatents, highlighted this and many other issues, during a talk cosponsored by Google Ghana on Intellectual Property and Patent Free Zones. She described Ghana as an “idea rich” environment with much room for the development of Intellectual Property. The talk had a strong focus on patents, their significance and their value. Patents typically last for a period of 20 years independent of the life of the business or the creator as they can always be resold. Patents share the dual role of helping business protect their creations while at the same time serving as a roadblock to businesses who don’t file. The significance of patents largely lies in their value as “business assets”. This assigns rights to companies and encourages innovation. In this sense, patents hold the potential to play a pivotal role in promoting commerce and development. Currently in Ghana there are fewer than 5,000 copyrights filed per year, whereas in the US and China the figures stand at 500,000 and 300,000 per year respectively. Though individual country rules on patents may differ (and this may have an impact on the number filed) there are a number of international agreements such as AREEPO and The Madrid Protocol which cover the application of Intellectual Property across countries. In choosing whether or not to file patents
within a country or across borders companies often need to make considerations beyond revenue markets to include sourcing and outsourcing markets and in extreme cases the country of their production manager.
Intellectual Property is not without its controversies and one of the most common areas in which it comes into question is with the issue of first to use vs. first to file. The former is normally associated with the originator of the idea/product who may be making use of it, but has not yet filed a patent. First to file refers to a situation in which an individual (who may or may not be the originator of the idea/product) files a patent and acquires the legal right to ownership. In the case where the one to file is not the one who created, is this an equitable system? In some countries, such as Ghana and France, this has led to the formation of moral and economic rights with respect to intellectual property. Economic rights can readily be transferred through sale, which is not the case for moral rights.
Intellectual Property is a largely under explored area in Ghana, which has the potential to serve as a significant contributor to business growth and development. Businesses would do well to critically examine their activities to protect their assets and fully benefit from their further development and use.
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