Florence Kamaitha is an achiever. But she has no kind words for the bodies tasked to issue patents and intellectual property rights in Kenya. And listening to her argument, it is no rocket science to get her point.
Kamaitha is the creator of bio-degradable-re-usable sanitary towels made from banana stems which she is yet to patent due to the tedious process and money she has to part with.
“I would never advise young entrepreneurs to go to the patents body or intellectual property offices in Kenya because they will be frustrated like I was,” she says.
Yet it is critical for businesses and individuals to get their innovative ideas protected to allow them to reap the potential financial rewards.
In this era of advancements in technology, it has become hard for people to patent their creations. The pace and speed with which innovations are being created means they become obsolete in less time than it takes to be awarded a patent.
April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, and is marked to celebrate the creativity and the contribution made by creators and innovators. The day aims to create awareness and recognise efforts being made in protecting creative abilities and watermarking intellectual properties.
Vince Mwangi of the Ukoo Fulani music group knows this pain all too well. “I tried to copyright my songs, I tried fighting music piracy but failed. I realised I would rather perform, earn my daily bread and take on side jobs.”
This is despite the numerous laws available to protect Kenyans. From the constitution, the Industrial Property Act 2000, The Seeds and Plant Varieties Act, Cap 326, the Trade Mark Act, Cap 506, the Copyright Act, No. 12 of 2001 to the Anti-Counterfeiting Act, 2008, few Kenyans know about the existence of such bodies or what they do.
“You mean we have a law to protect our creations?” asks Alice Nderitu incredulously. I only know of Ezekiel Mutua who is supposed to fight piracy of music,” says the second year B.A Education student at Kenyatta University.
Applying and acquiring a copyright costs KES1, 000 which is administered by the Kenya Copyright Board. Getting a trademark costs KES10, 000 and the amount is dependent on the nature of trademark, while a patent, the highest form of intellectual property protection costs KES100, 000 for a duration of 20 years. In Kenya it is administered by the Kenya Industrial Property Institute.
Bernard Waweru, an intellectual property lawyer says most young people have brilliant innovations, but due to ignorance and lack of funds, they are unable to realise registration. And whenever they approach a corporate, the corporate may end up owning the idea and employing the creator.
Kamaitha recalls how she was asked to part with KES200, 000 by a patents lawyer to help her draft a request for patent.
“I ended up parting with KES20, 000 which I gave another lawyer who drafted the requirements. To make it worse, the application took eight months to be reviewed, by which time my innovation had even been upgraded,” she said.
And therein lies the problem according to Simon Kuria, the founder of ‘Murisho’, an innovation aimed at tracking counterfeit goods. He applied for a patent but he is yet to get a reply from the body tasked with reviewing his application.
“I have been waiting since July last year. I am almost giving up and would not be shocked if someone else comes up with my innovation and is registered,” he says.
The biggest challenge for the innovating world is awareness. David Lukoye, a business consultant at Strathmore Business School lists lack of awareness and public voice as factors limiting the growth of intellectual property in Kenya. “How will we innovate and protect our patents if we do not even let people know there is this body that protects your right to be known as the owner of a body of work? It is upon us to ensure voices are heard and people know,” he says.
Last month during a round table discussion organised by the Kenya Copyright Board, the Kenya Film Commission and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Carole Croella, WIPO’s senior counsellor in the copyright law division said the continent needs well-crafted legislation and policies to implement a ‘need to know’ market trend.
She said for a start, Kenya needs to ratify the international Beijing Treaty adopted on June 24, 2012 on audiovisual performances, so that intellectual ownership can be internationally verifiable. The treaty grants protection to performers such as singers in their audiovisual productions. In Africa, only Nigeria, Algeria, Botswana, Tunisia and Burkina Faso have ratified the treaty.