By Sharon Atieno

With the directive on the ban of self-sponsorship program kicking in at public universities, there is need to fill the funding gap left by the program. Intellectual property (IP) offers the required solution.

It has been a norm at the universities and other learning institutions that after a research is done and completed, the student is graded and nothing happens to the research. Most of them end up lying in a shelf somewhere or at the University’s database library.

Ideally, the research being conducted by masters, doctorate and even undergraduate students at the universities is meant to be a solution to a certain societal problem. However, the bridge that converts this knowledge to something tangible that can be useful to society is often missing.

During a Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) workshop on IP, Eng. B Kariuki, director in charge of IP management at JKUAT University, noted that universities need to have an entrepreneurial mentality. This is whereby universities focus on education, research and know-how exploitation not just teaching and basic research activities.

“Knowledge that is not fed into industry will not help industries and the country will actually not industrialize,” he said. “For the knowledge to get to industries, it needs to be coded, to be put in a certain system known as the IP system.”

For the IP system to work, the researcher needs to patent his or her work before it is published. Lack of patenting leaves the idea vulnerable to being stolen and replicated, hence the original creator ends up not benefitting from their work incase benefits arise.

KIPI, gives a grace period of one year to file for patent application before publishing of the work. The law does not allow issuing of patents to works that are already published. A patented work makes it easier to commercialize.

As per KIPI’s statistics, there are 1, 000 patent applications in Kenya each year from both locals and foreigners. However, despite this number, very few end up commercializing their IP.

An ongoing IP audit conducted at Nairobi University has found around 124 theses so far, which qualify for patent but were left lying on the shelves at the university.

In order to foster more effective use of the IP system by universities and research institutions in Africa, WIPO and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) developed the Intellectual Property (IP) Policy and Strategy formulation Guidelines.

IP policies guide commercialization of an invention within the universities or research institutions. The policy establishes an equitable basis for resolving issues related to ownership, disclosure and equitable distribution of income resulting from use of the invention.

The IP policy that was established at Sang’alo Institute for Science and Technology in Bungoma County, has enabled the institution plus the inventor to benefit from royalties gotten through a public private partnership initiative that saw some of its inventions being commercialized.

“The IP policy of the institute has guidelines on how to share if the innovation is fully commercialized. After deductions have been made including tax, the profits remaining are shared between the Institute and the innovator,” says Peter Wamalwa, chief technical trainer in-charge of research and innovation at Sang’alo Institute and also an innovator.

However preliminary results of a survey conducted by National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) shows that the uptake of IP policies is steady but slow within universities both private and public as well as research institutions in the country.

The survey indicates that out of 29 public universities, 21 have policies while 3 have put drafts in place; 3 private universities have policies while has put a draft in place; and 5 research institutions  have put a policy in place while 2 have drafts.

Considering that there are so many public universities, private universities and research institutions, more work needs to be done, despite the survey still ongoing.

David Njuguna, Manager-patent at KIPI, notes that for the IP policy to work it has to be implemented and the drive has to come from top management such as the vice chancellor.

For the IP management office at the universities to be effective, it has to have at least two people: a technical and political person.

“The political person should be an influencer at the senate and technology innovation support centres (TISC) committee level,” states Prof.  Tom Ogada, lead consultant for WIPO at the workshop. “The arrangement helps with the implementation.”

IP policy and management is at the centre of IP commercialization by universities. In order to create more awareness on IP, upon request, KIPI builds capacity on IP for people at the university. WIPO also offers basic courses on IP; some are free but others are offered at a fee.

It is about time that universities stopped being too dependent on the exchequer and looked for other sources of generating income especially through the innovations within their reach.