By Samwel Ouma
Growing economies like Kenya continue to evolve from traditional agricultural and low-value and simplified manufacturing activities making their innovations and creativity prone to duplication and shortchanging. Thus, intellectual property assets have become strategic factors for value creation by firms and individuals as they are increasingly important in attracting investment, enabling productivity and efficiency gains, and fostering the growth of innovative sectors in the economy.
Creativity and innovation are proven drivers of economic growth and competitiveness. SMEs, especially small firms, contribute greatly and increasingly to the innovation system by introducing new products and adapting existing products to the needs of customers. The ability of the youth to be creative and inventive has propelled economic growth to a large extend.
The challenge of counterfeiting and piracy epidemic is affecting business startups greatly. Stealing other people’s innovations and creativity is not only illegal in Kenya but also creates unfair competition which has led to a significant loss on businesses and the global economy.
In order to promote and protect innovations and creativity, Article 40 of the Kenyan constitution gives exclusive rights to protection of right to property. Article 40 Section (5) state that the state shall support, promote and protect the intellectual property of the people of Kenya.
Intellectual property in law is an umbrella term for various legal entitlements. Intellectual property laws are more than one and each type of intellectual property law (IP) is different. There are four types of IP rights. They include Designs, Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights Acts.
A recent study on the country’s intellectual property audit revealed that between 1990 and 2001, the SME was the most innovative sector, with a total of 116 patent applications at Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI).
Patent is the backbone of the viable, innovative and competitive SME industry. It leads to creation of new substances, products, devices, methods or processes which are of value. The innovations are protected as “Patents” under Patents Act.
Patents do more than keep creative wheel spinning. They are also a means of technological exchange. Each patent document describes a new aspect of a technology in clear and specific terms and is available for anyone to read. Patents are made public specifically to promote the sharing of knowledge. As such they are vital resources for entrepreneurs, researchers, inventors, academics and others who need to keep up with development in their fields.
Patents offer inventors monopolies on their creations for a period of twenty years in Kenya. Without the possibility of patent protection, many people might not take the risks or invest the time and money involved in devising and perfecting new products. For example, our society would have benefited greatly if we had protected products such as the kiondo, Maasai leso, kikoi, akala shoes and certain vaccines for livestock diseases produced in Kenya.
Kenya is a signatory to multinational treaties and agreements, which provide some form of harmonization in the protection of intellectual property. Some of these organisations, protocols, treaties and agreement include the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property Patent Cooperation Treaty – PCT. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) African Regional Intellectual Property Organization – (ARIPO).