One of the leading inventors in Zimbabwe is Sangulani Chikumbutso who's socioeconomic circumstances forced him to drop out of school in form 2 (9th grade). He began experimenting with electrical technology which led him to be profiled on a television program as a talented young man. He is now the owner of Saith Technologies and some of his company’s inventions include a hybrid engine-powered helicopter, the electric car, a ‘green’ power generator and a drone. He serves as an inspiration to a lot of budding entrepreneurs and those that don't have the means to look after their families and continue studying at the same time.
Today the journey for anyone in similar shoes has been made simpler, however, the ethics thereof still has some way to go.
Drawing the line
Part of the Chinese economic growth has been attributed to their ability to 'copy' with pride. It's something that the Chinese have mastered, they take an existing patent document, study it and make an improvement or slight adjustment to the invention, enough to ensure they're not infringing on the patent rights of the original patent owner. This may be legally acceptable, but there is a question of ethics. Where do we draw the line when it comes to creative expression and misappropriation of someone's work even if it's legally acceptable?
We live in a global economy where using other people's work without any referencing, giving recognition or paying the owner of the original work has become a norm. In as much as I am for economic growth, I'm also conscious of the fact that I live on a continent where our history, intellectual contributions and creative work have been distorted and misappropriated for centuries without getting the necessary recognition or financial benefit.
How can we cost effectively arm ourselves to navigate in the new age so that history does not repeat itself?
Education in a traditional sense tends to send your mind back to a classroom setting, thanks to the internet all you need to access information on patent documents is the ability to use google. Patent documents are freely available on the Internet on websites such as Google patents and Espacenet. A person can use these resources to read up on developments within a field of interest. Through these sources, one gains access to documented inventions that can be further developed and potentially used for commercial benefit. In the instance where the patent is no longer enforced and there's an identifiable need or market for the product, a person can exploit the invention for commercial benefit. For budding entrepreneurs and aspirant innovators, this is one way to look for inspiration and gauge whether an idea or innovation is actually new. The reality is more often than not we aren't creating anything new but rather improving on what's pre-existing.
What I would like to see happen in Africa is for Africans to become exporters rather than importers, creators rather than copiers. Most of what Africa imports are sourced from Africa then processed, repacked and resold back to us as something 'new'. I would like to see us not only as an international source of raw materials and creative ideas but as the producers of everything we consume in our day to day lives.