By Gabriel-Eddie Njoroge

Though the Constitution allows individuals to protect their intellectual property (IP), the uptake of protection has been really low.

According to the World IP Organization (WIPO), an arm of United Nations, set up to advocate IP rights, Kenya, in 2016, compared to other regional hubs such as South Africa and Egypt, had lower number of patents. Kenya had 201 patents, South Africa 2011 and Egypt 1052.

In 2017, Kenya had approved 6103 trademarks compared to 30,000 in South Africa and 10,000 trademarks approved in Egypt. While Kenya had less than 500 industrial designs approved compared to over 3,000 in South Africa and over 1,000 in Egypt.

Speaking at a public forum on intellectual property hosted by Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) –Kenya, David Njuguna, chief patent examiner, Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) this disparity is brought about by the state of the economy of a given region. In this case, both South Africa and Egypt have bigger economies than Kenya.

Inadequate sensitization is a challenge whereby, citizens should be educated on the availability of the option of protecting their IP and its benefits. In Kenya, you find that the government does not publicize this option enough thus many people are not aware. This is in contrast to other countries like South Africa and Egypt that conduct multiple sensitization efforts to their citizens.

The complication in the registration process of a patent is also an issue. The process is complicated as it requires both technical and legal expertise which most applicants cannot afford. However, the government through their IP oversight arms, has significantly simplified the process for ordinary citizens in order to make it easier for them to begin and complete the application process with no trouble.

One of the ways, according to Sylvance Sange the managing director of KIPI, that they are raising awareness on the IP issue, is with the help of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, they have secured funds to organize a range of training programs, exhibitions, conferences and workshops on IP across the country in collaboration with key IP stakeholders. They also have awards that are meant to boost the profile of Kenya’s best creators and innovators.

On the issue of Kenyans taking seriously the issue of IP, Sange said, “Kenyans are intellectually rich – as seen by the number of publications by Kenyan academics in leading science journals – but have yet to translate their know-how into commercially viable IP assets.”

“All too often Kenyan academics fail to recognize that their research results are valuable IP assets which, once protected using the IP system, can be licensed to generate new income either for further research or business development. Researchers and entrepreneurs alike need to understand that identifying and protecting their valuable IP assets help boost business growth, improves competitiveness in local and international markets, promotes employment and supports national economic growth,” he said.

All these efforts being undertaken have started showing progress with the number of people applying and being granted approval for trademarks, patents, copyrights, utility models and industrial designs increasing. However, more work needs to be done for Kenya to be at par with other regional hubs in Africa.