From Ideas to Assets: Navigating Intellectual Property in Tech

MEST Africa
4 min readJun 6, 2024


In an era where ideas are currency, Intellectual Property (IP) becomes the vault. For startups, IP isn’t just about legalities; it’s about ensuring your brainchild remains yours and yours alone. In essence, it’s like marking the territory of your innovation. Here’s how smart IP management can drive your startup’s value and innovation forward.

What is Intellectual Property Anyway?

Imagine a scenario where you design a sleek, new tech gadget. It’s tangible; you can touch it, see it, showcase it. Now, let’s talk about the concept, the programming, or even the catchy name you gave it. Those are intangible assets, and that’s where Intellectual Property (IP) steps in. It provides protection for these intangible creations of the mind, ensuring no one else claims them.

Diving into IP’s Toolbox

For tech startups, IP can manifest in various forms:

Copyright: This is the guardian of your software code, graphics, and even that catchy jingle playing on your website. It’s like a protective cloak that automatically wraps around your original creations.

Trademarks: Think of them as the face of your brand — the unique symbols, names, or slogans you don’t want competitors mimicking.

Patents: The protective shield for groundbreaking inventions. Whether it’s an innovative software solution or a unique gadget, patents ensure your creation does not get copied.

Trade Secrets: Ever heard about Coca-Cola’s secret recipe? That’s a classic example. These are the things you keep under wraps because they give you a competitive edge.

Industrial Designs: Think about the unique curvature of a smartphone or the aesthetics of a tech gadget. That is industrial design at play.

Why IP Should be Every Tech Startup’s Best Friend

For tech startups, IP is not just about protection; it is about credibility, valuation, and even funding. Strong IP showcases a startup’s uniqueness and innovation, acting as a magnet for investors. Additionally, IP can become a revenue stream — through licensing or enforcing rights against infringers.

The Pitfalls of Ignoring IP

Many startups fall into the trap of sidelining IP. Founders tend to ignore trademark searches when deciding their company names and logo. This may lead to the inability to register the mark in the future and may inhibit their ability to scale into other jurisdictions. Searches detect the pre-existence of (similar) trademarks and save the company from these conflicts. These conflicts may also occur where startups delay registering their IP. Often, they opt to grow the business first and then try to register their IP. Registration often favours the “first in time”, thus should a 3 rd party register the IP first, the startup would lose the opportunity to claim those legal rights and any goodwill that had already been built around them.

Another mistake startups make is publicly sharing their unprotected IP. Sensitive details of programmes, codes and algorithms should not be shared (even during pitches) as this could potentially frustrate the startup’s ability to claim exclusive rights to the idea. Improperly drafted IP registration applications are also a prevalent issue, as they lead to rejections and wasted resources.

Startups can also inadvertently infringe existing IP rights. With open-source software, for example, startups often fail to comply with the licensing frameworks. Some open-source applications may have built-in modules/requirements when scaling beyond a certain threshold.

What are the relevant laws that apply in Ghana?

The relevant laws for IP protection in Ghana are:

  • The Copyright Act, 2005 (Act 690)
  • The Patents Act, 2003 (Act 657)
  • the Protection Against Unfair Competition Act, 2000 (Act 589);
  • The Trade Marks Act, 2004 (Act 664); and
  • The Industrial Designs Act, 2003 (Act 660).

Looking Ahead: IP in the Age of AI and Blockchain

As we venture deeper into the tech age, IP is at a crossroads. The rise of AI and blockchain brings forth fresh challenges. When an AI creates a masterpiece, who owns it? As technologies evolve, so must the laws governing them.

Take music as an example. Some AI programs today can create songs that sound a lot like famous artists. But if these programs learn from the music of these artists without asking, are they breaking any rules?

Blockchain is changing the way we think about IP. It’s a kind of digital ledger that can track who owns what, making IP questions even more complex.

In the fast-paced tech world, making something new is always the goal. But it’s just as important to protect those new ideas. Understanding IP is not just about following rules. For tech companies, it’s a way to grow, build trust, and succeed.

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to provide legal advice. For personalized legal guidance, we encourage you to seek consultation from a qualified lawyer.



MEST Africa

The largest Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation for startups: