SMEs should use Intellectual Property to compete


On April 26, Ghana joined other member states of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to celebrate the World Intellectual Property Day. It is a day aimed at raising awareness and learn about the role of Intellectual Property (IP) rights in encouraging creativity and innovation.

WIPO is a global forum for intellectual Property Services (IP) services, policy, information and cooperation. It is a specialised agency under the United Nations (UN), and has 193 member states. Its mission is to lead the development of a balanced and effective international IP system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all.  WIPO is established by the World Intellectual Property Convention, concluded in Stockholm on July 14, 1967. The WIPO Convention defines the mandate, governing bodies and procedures of the organisation.

Intellectual property rights are defined by WIPO as creations of the human mind. 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; industrial property and copyright. Industrial property includes trademarks, patents, industrial designs, geographical indications and trade secrets while copyright concerns literary, artistic and scientific works. Where as forms of IP under industrial property are protected upon registration, copyright protection is automatic upon creation. This means any form of industrial property must be registered before a claim of ownership is sustained, while for copyright, there are no required formalities to assert protection.

Intellectual Property is an important business asset to an enterprise. IP creates value and can be used by an enterprise to gain competitive advantage in the market place. This year’s theme highlights how Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can benefit from using IP as a business strategy. The theme which is, IP and SMEs: Taking Your Ideas to the Market underscores the critical role of SMEs in the economy and how they can use IP rights to build stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses. SMEs are major contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most national economies like Ghana. The International Trade Centre in its report of 2016 “SME Competitiveness in Ghana: Alliance for action” notes   that Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Ghanaian economy. The report indicates that SMEs represent about 85% of businesses, largely within the private sector, and contribute about 70% of Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, one of the major challenges identified as facing competitiveness of SMEs in Ghana is lack of unique products. It is reported that most of the enterprises are engaged in the production of ‘common and easily copied’ products, and considered themselves to be ‘one of many similar suppliers’. The implication of this is that SMEs are vulnerable to market vulnerability given their low competitive advantage.

The different IP Tools like trademarks, industrial designs, patents and copyright, can be used by SMEs in Ghana to address some of the challenges faced. SMEs can turn ideas into business opportunities, generate value, create employment and enrich the choice of products available to consumers through the use of various IP tools. In doing this, they can enhance their competitiveness in the global market. Trademarks are distinctive signs or names which SMEs can use to differentiate their goods and services. Industrial designs can help SMEs create appealing and attractive products. Patents can be used by SMEs to have exclusive rights to new technological inventions and Copyright can be used in protecting digital content across media channels.

This World IP Day came at the backdrop when Covid-19 Pandemic which has crippled almost every business. IP should be used as a means by SMEs to recover from the down turns caused by the pandemic. 

Wabugo Michael is a Lawyer

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