By HENRY OWINO (Senior Science Correspondent)

Universities and Research & Development (R&D) Institutions are major sources of knowledge, innovations, inventions and transformation. However, most of these establishments’ intellectual assets are never commercialized for the benefit of respective nations.

The main reason to why many universities and research institutions in Africa do not commercialize their research work is lack of Intellectual Property (IP) Policy hence fear of plagiarism. African universities and research institutions do not patent their intellectual property to protect ownership.

Patent gives research owners the legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of years, in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the invention. It also enables commercialization of intellectual property thereby offering solutions to problems.

Lack of IP policy in many universities and research institutions in Africa has promoted a culture of holding back great ideas, innovations and best practices in shelves. Again it promotes duplication of research among institutions and individuals owing to patent.

Without IP policy in place, theft of intellectual property by competitors has become rampant especially in this era of computer technology.

It for this reason that Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), a Government parastatal under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperation in collaboration with World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), convened a workshop to train Kenyan universities and research institutions.

The two days (19-20 June, 2019) national workshop week on institutional IP Policy development for universities and R&D institutions took place in Nairobi, Kenya. It attracted 11 universities, one technical vocational training institution and two research institutions all represented by heads of relevant departments.

Mr David Njuguna, Manager Patent, KIPI said objective of the workshop was to find solutions to the problems bedeviling universities and assist in developing a working IP policy and physical management office.

“Most of our universities and research institutions not only in Kenya but Africa at large have no proper IP policies. So KIPI and WIPI among other relevant organizations are concerned hence the need to train and implement,” Njuguna said.

From left_ David Njuguna Manager Patents KIPI, Loretta Asiedu ,Senior Counsellor, WIPO and Sylvance Sange,Managing Director KIPI

Loretta Asiedu, Senior Counsellor, WIPO, Geneva in Switzerland guided the staff in strategizing and formulating national IP policy for Kenya’s universities and research institutions.

She advised participants that national IP policy strategy is usually drafted in the context of national government development plans. This includes sustainable development goals SDGs, research priority areas and any other set goals or vision that can easily be funded.

Asiedu revealed five African inistitutions are among institutions that have been picked by WIPO to participate in a continental IP pilot project. The aim is to help public teaching and research organizations build capacity for developing and implementing institutional IP policy and strategy.

The entrance of JKUAT where IP policy pilot WIPO project is taking place

The universities included Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Zimbabwe’s Africa University, the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Windhoek, and Ghana’s Koforidua Technical University (KTU) among others.

Also taking part in the initiative is Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), the only non-higher education institution in the group. Every country taking part in this IP policy pilot project have its own workshop week because of different needs and priorities.

The Senior Counsellor, WIPO explained the project is being implemented by global IP organization the WIPO in collaboration with two continental bodies, one Anglophone, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and the other Francophone, the organization Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI).

The project is being implemented by global IP organization the WIPO in collaboration with two continental bodies, one Anglophone, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and the other Francophone, the Organization Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI).

In her speech, Mrs Asiedu emphasized the need for African countries to have laws protecting intellectual property. She said by so doing, first it would give statutory expression to the moral and economic rights of creators in their creations and the rights of the public in access to those creations.

Secondly is to promote, as a deliberate act of Government policy, creativity and the dissemination and application of its results and to encourage fair trading which would contribute to economic and social development.

“Intellectual property, very broadly, means the legal rights which result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields,” Mrs Asiedu explained.

“Generally speaking, intellectual property law aims at safeguarding creators and other producers of intellectual goods and services by granting them certain time-limited rights to control the use made of those productions,” Mrs Asiedu clarified.

According to Prof Tom Ogada, lead consultant and chairman, NACOSTI all universities and research institutions in Kenya should now focus more or link their R&D activities to the country’s Big 4 Agenda that include universal health care, adequate housing, manufacture, food and nutrition security.

Prof Tom Ogada, Lead Consultant IP Policy for University and Research Institutions in Kenya

Prof Ogada cautioned university, individuals and research institutions seeking funding from Government not to ignore National Research Priorities Areas that were recently unveiled by NACOSTI. Prof Ogada added that institutions with IP policy, is added advantage to them.

“We are dedicated to phase out duplication of research work by various institutions. Apart from it being expensive, it ends up in shelves not benefiting people intended for,” Prof Ogada said. Again it only promotes individuals and institutions to own big titles and high rankings.” He added.

Prof Ogada implied the core mandate of University is to impart knowledge through effective teaching, while Research and Development brings in new technologies, processes and improvement of existing products.

The Lead Consultant argued it doesn’t stop there but its extension is implementation to end users to thus making it available for community. The Lead Consultant regretted that many have been promoted to higher ranks with big titles yet they never accomplished it.

“We must move away from carrying out research for sake of academic requirements which leads to duplication of research work. If research is not made available for use then it is valueless,” Prof Ogada emphasized.

“Research must add value and benefit the general public. It has to be protected for it not to be used by other competitors. This is why the right to protect it as intellectual property applies.” He added.

Prof Ogada challenged the university representatives to move away from traditional way of doing research, unless its output can lead to very useful products, job creation, poverty reduction, industrialization and hunger elimination.

“These economic results can only be realized, transferred and taken up by users if IP policy exists that enables patent for the purpose commercialization,” Prof Ogada, the IP Policy Lead Consultant affirmed.

“Technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application. No research work can be publicized or commercialized without patent and that is the procedure we are heading to,” Prof Ogada declared.

However, Prof Ogada cautioned there must be clear understanding of the available options for commercialization of research and development results. Nevertheless, he advised policy to increase patent is significant not just for research but in any technology, innovation, artistic work and the likes to copyright as well.

According to Mr Sylvance Sange, Managing Director KIPI, IP policy is a requirement for every university and research institutions. Although IP policy has been in existence for a while now, most universities and research institutions overlook it.

Mr Sange explained: “It is regrettable many individuals’ and institutions research works have been used by other competitors to earn credits not meant for them unfairly. So, IP policy would lead to patent application allowing commercialization of research products while granting a property right to an inventor by a sovereign authority.”

While cautioning universities and research institutions, Mr Sange said patent application for intellectual property also requires commercialization for public utilization. He clarified the essence of patenting is to sell inventions, innovations for the public benefit.

“At KIPI Registry Patent, there are lots of researches secured but not commercialized. May be some of inventions could cure chronic diseases yet lying idle at KIPI patent registry. You never know if they could be improved Cosmos and used in hospitals as remedy for Ebola,” Mr Sange protested.

He hinted that KIPI would soon structure fresh guidelines on commercialization of patent products so as to serve its intended purposes. Another guideline would be conditions for all granted patents to explain why their innovations not commercialized.