In a year rocked by economic turbulence and recession, Morocco’s commitment to innovation only grew as the country’s filed patents rose by nearly 30%.
Rabat — Morocco filed the third greatest number of patents in Africa in 2020, trailing only South Africa and Egypt in a year notable for its economic upheaval and innovation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Between January and December of last year, Moroccan companies filed 42 patents across multiple industries, according to recent figures from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The figure rose nearly 30% from the 33 patents filed by Morocco in 2019.
China led the world in patent filings in 2020, registering 68,720 parents in 2020 alone. The United States followed at 59,230, while Japan rounded out the top three at 50,520 patent requests.
The year’s most heavily patented industries included electronics, medicine, chemistry, mechanics, and information technology, according to WIPO’s findings.
The lion’s share of Africa’s patented innovation is concentrated in a small group of countries. The continent’s top five patent filers — South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritius — together comprised nearly 90% of Africa’s patent requests last year.
Over half of African countries didn’t file a single patent request in 2020, the report finds.
Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the globe in innovation. Despite its status as the world’s second-most populous continent and home to over 16% of the global population, Africa compositely filed for only 412 patents last year, a measly 0.15% of the worldwide total.
There are multiple theories as to why African innovation and entrepreneurship have experienced lackluster growth compared to the outside world.
Lack of educational access in many African countries has stunted economic growth, rendering their economies unequipped to compete with better-educated workforces in more-developed countries. Additionally, as unemployment rates surge in many parts of the continent, there is little incentive for youth to stay in school without the guarantee of a job upon graduation.
Also keeping the continent at the bottom in global innovation rankings is that high rates of poverty in Africa force people to focus on immediate financial return over projects with the potential for long-term growth.
Makhtar Diop, a Senegalese economist and the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, also notes the role Africa’s lack of labor infrastructure plays in limiting innovation potential.
Describing a problem he dubs the “innovation paradox,” Diop explains that, “without certain other factors in place, countries cannot realize the enormous promised gains from innovation.”
“If a firm invests in innovation but cannot import the machines that they need to implement the innovation, then the returns will be low,” he said. “If a firm invests in innovation but has insufficient trained workers or engineers to implement it, then the returns will be low.”
Despite the barriers, Africa’s growing cohort of young entrepreneurs is determined to rewrite the world’s expectations and shape the continent’s future.
“They are creating jobs, paying taxes, igniting the entrepreneurial spark amongst their contemporaries, and ultimately, playing pivotal roles in the continent’s renaissance,” wrote Kenyan journalist Mfonobong Nsehe. “You can’t ignore them anymore.”