Strengthening Kenya’s IP Landscape
By Festus Mbuimwe, freelance writer
Sylvance Sange, acting managing director of the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), talks to WIPO Magazine about Kenya’s intellectual property (IP) landscape, key priorities, challenges and opportunities.
Can you explain KIPI’s role?
KIPI is a body corporate established by the Industrial Property Act No.3 of 2001, and is currently under the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Trade. It is mandated to promote inventive and innovative activities and to facilitate technology transfer through the regulation and protection of industrial property in Kenya.
It does this by receiving, processing and granting or registering patents, industrial designs, utility models, trade and service marks, and by screening technology transfer agreements and licenses. KIPI also promotes inventiveness and innovation through its IP public awareness initiatives and a range of training courses which it runs in collaboration with various institutions of higher learning.
How has Kenya’s IP landscape evolved in recent years?
Much progress has been made in terms of pushing IP up the political agenda. In fact, with the adoption of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, IP now has constitutional status. In its current form, I would say that Kenya’s Constitution is one of the best in the world in terms of the attention it pays to IP. Thanks to this, the concept of IP in Kenya is now at the heart of a number of policy and legal frameworks in both the public and private sectors.
Kenya has modern IP laws which comply with international standards (including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS)), and Parliament is currently preparing sui generis laws for the protection of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and traditional cultural expressions. So the national legal framework for IP has evolved quite considerably over the past 10 years.
What are your future priorities?
I want to ensure that Kenyans benefit from policies that balance the rights and obligations of producers and users of IP. I also want to further strengthen Kenya’s IP regime and to ensure that it continues to support the nation’s social and economic development ambitions.
One of KIPI’s key priorities is to promote greater public understanding and awareness among Kenyans of the advantages that can flow from effective use of IP rights. IP education is extremely important, because only when people begin to understand the benefits of the IP system will they start using it and benefiting from it.
Another important priority is to improve patent drafting skills. Poor understanding of how to prepare patent applications in business circles is hampering growth in the number of applications filed and the number of patents KIPI is able to grant. So we have to invest more in building up these skills to turn this situation around. At present, because of the low number of applications filed in fields like engineering there is a high turnover of patent examiners. Only by ramping up filing activity will we be able to maintain the technical expertise and sustain the financial resources needed for the smooth operation of KIPI in an automated environment.
Building respect for IP among Kenyans remains a constant challenge. Many people still fall victim to outfits operating contrary to honest industrial or commercial practices. If we are to create the conditions necessary for Kenyan businesses to thrive, we need to continue to raise public awareness about the negative impact the illegal trade in counterfeit and pirated goods has on legitimate businesses and employment as well as consumer safety and the economy at large.
At KIPI, we are determined to ensure that Kenya’s industrial property system keeps pace with the rapidly evolving global IP landscape and continues to support national social and economic development objectives.
What is KIPI doing to raise awareness?
With the invaluable support of the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development and KIPI’s Board of Directors, we 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. For example, KIPI supports Kenyan secondary schools in organizing a range of student congresses on science and technology every year. KIPI also runs a number of award schemes to boost the profile of Kenya’s best creators and innovators. We also actively engage with social, print and electronic media outlets to inform the public about the role of IP in supporting the country’s social, cultural and economic development goals. Our colleagues regularly take part in talk shows like “The Professional View” and “Good Morning Kenya” aired by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). We are planning to launch a radio program very soon. Radio remains the most popular broadcast media in Kenya. So this will enable us to extend our IP awareness efforts to the more remote, rural regions.
None of this would be possible without the creativity and commitment of KIPI’s amazing staff.
What has been the impact of these activities?
According to a survey we conducted in 2015 with an independent consultant, there was a 13.1 per cent increase in the level of IP awareness of Kenyans. We have also seen an increase in the number of applications filed with KIPI. IP-related cases being heard by tribunals and courts are also on the rise.
And what is KIPI doing to tackle IP theft?
IP theft – the illegal trading of pirated and counterfeit goods – remains a significant challenge in Kenya. KIPI is working with Kenya’s enforcement agencies to support national efforts to tackle the problem, for example, through our public IP awareness activities and training programs both for right holders, so they know what to do in the event their rights are infringed, and for various law enforcement agents, so they can do their work more effectively.
You also mentioned promoting innovation as part of your mandate. What is KIPI doing to enhance Kenya’s innovation performance?
KIPI works with a range of institutions and government ministries to ensure that IP is incorporated into their strategic plans. In this way, we are helping to ensure that IP is at the forefront of policy considerations and that it supports the country’s ambitions to promote innovation and creativity for sustained economic growth. It is a key responsibility of government to formulate balanced policies that create greater respect for IP rights and limit the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods and that support the expanded use of IP rights in support of technology transfer, indigenous research and development and trade.
KIPI, with its partners in government, has also played a key role in establishing the Kenya National Innovation Agency and the National Research Fund, both of which are designed to further strengthen Kenya’s innovation ecosystem.
Micro and small enterprises (MSEs) make up a significant proportion of Kenya’s economy. What is KIPI doing to boost their use of the IP system?
KIPI is working closely with the Micro and Small Enterprises Agency – under the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Trade – to encourage creativity and innovation in the sector. We have, for example, established a Technology and Innovation Support Center (TISC) at KIPI, to help these businesses access and use patent information in support of their business goals. We are also undertaking a program to digitize KIPI’s registries. This will enable us to provide our clients with more efficient, timely and cost-effective IP services. Our aim, of course, is to provide MSEs with the practical help they need to be able to add value to their products and to become more competitive through effective use of the IP system.
In the medium term, our plan is to ensure that KIPI’s services are accessible across Kenya, as required under the country’s Constitution.
Why should Kenyan entrepreneurs take IP rights seriously?
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 helps boost business growth, improves competitiveness in local and international markets, promotes employment and supports national economic growth.
What needs to be done to ensure that Kenya becomes a truly knowledge-driven economy?
In the knowledge economy, the capacity for ideas and information to generate value far outweighs that of traditional sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing. The government’s recognition that information is a valuable commodity in the information age is a step in the right direction. IP is central to converting that raw material – knowledge, information and ideas – into tradeable intellectual property assets and to ensuring that the national economy continues to thrive.
Lastly, what keeps you awake at night?
As a person entrusted with the administration of industrial property rights in Kenya, it is my responsibility to ensure that KIPI is responsive to the needs of Kenya’s business community and continues to improve the quality and range of IP services it provides to support innovative businesses.
I want to support Kenya’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. I want to see the country thrive and become globally competitive. I want Kenya to be a place where inventors, businesses and universities can easily and adequately protect and enforce their IP rights. I often lose sleep thinking about how to turn that vision into reality.
Kenya’s leading IP institutions
A member state of WIPO since 1971, Kenya has four intellectual property protection bodies: the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) and the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA). Other bodies such as the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) and the National Research Fund support the broader development of Kenya’s innovation landscape by, for example, strengthening linkages between academia and business.
Intellectual property is given high priority in Kenya. Section 40(5) of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution obliges the government, among other things, to protect and enforce Kenyans’ IP rights.
KIPI was established in 2002 following the enactment of the 2001 Industrial Property Act. Its vision is “to be a leader in the promotion of industrial property rights for wealth creation”.
Sylvance Sange was appointed acting managing director of KIPI with effect from May 1, 2014. He joined the organization in 1994 when it was called the Kenya Industrial Property Office (KIPO), and previously served as its deputy managing director, technical services. He holds bachelor degrees in Physics and Laws from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a master’s degree in Intellectual Property from the Franklin Pierce Law Center in the USA.