The new trend in South Africa is corporates that engage in theft of ideas from start-ups trying to get a foot in the door. It is interesting how this could be happening when most of these corporates have large innovation budgets and a well paid staff in the innovation department. So what is going wrong? The reality of corporate organisations is as follows; ‘being in a corporate setting is like a worm in a mammal’s body that only realizes that the animal is dead when the food supply disappears’. There is never a need for a large corporate company to come up with an innovative product because profits are good and everyone is already happy.
The problem comes in when corporates start to realise that a smaller player can take their market share which would have a negative effect on revenue and profitability. We have deliberately used the word ‘take market share’ because large corporates in South Africa do not believe a smaller player in South Africa can put them out of business. They may actually be right for reasons linked to their ability to influence regulatory policy. So, it is a fear of losing market share. Some corporates decided that instead of supporting small upcoming start-up companies, they would rather pretend as if their ideas do not work, then later steal those ideas and implement them as their own.
South Africa has over the years been shocked at how corporates who have great write-ups on their websites about supporting start-ups and small businesses have in reality resorted to theft of intellectual property. The sad result of this challenge is that, too much time is spent wondering why start-ups and small businesses have no traction in South Africa, when the answer lies in the ethics of some players in the corporate sector. The corporate sector does not want the pie to grow, they prefer to own the pie. But, can we really be outraged at what is in reality a natural action of any large corporate anywhere in the world? It seems once again that the most effective method of resolving this phenomenon is ensuring that intellectual property regulators look out for start-ups and small businesses.