The role of intellectual property protection in fostering innovation cannot be over-emphasized. Protection of ideas enables innovators to reap the full benefits of their inventions and provide a mechanism of turning knowledge from a “public good” to a “private good” that can be traded and subjected to market forces. Industrial property rights refer to a sub-set of intellectual property rights that covers patents, utility models, industrial designs and trade/service marks. A recent study by the Scinnovent Centre sought to investigate the industrial property landscape in Kenya with a view to answering the following questions:
- Where do the inventions come from? Who owns the industrial property protected in Kenya?
- How does foreign (international) applicants compare with national (domestic) applications?
- In which economic sectors are the most IP applications registered?
- What are the key challenges/bottlenecks faced by the applicants?
Findings of this study show that ‘Kenya is not yet there’ in terms of harnessing its intellectual capital, fostering innovations, and commercializing its research products as evidenced by the low rate of applications and grants for industrial property rights. Even though Kenya has seen a steady growth in terms of patent applications and grants, its contribution is still negligible, compared to the worldwide patent applications.
- 2,388 patents were filed in the period 1990 – 2013
- More than half of patents applications were filed by companies
- Partnerships between individuals filing the highest number of applications
The World Intellectual Property Indicators report 2013 (WIPO, 2013) records that the patent applications worldwide stood at 2.35 million in 2012, and Kenya’s contribution to this was only 0.011 percent. In addition to this low application for patents, this report reveals that of all the patent applications, more than 70% were not granted.
While both foreigners and locals account for almost equal shares of applications, foreigners are almost 3 times more likely to be successful in their applications. More than 70% of the patents have been granted to foreign applicants. The high rejection rates of the national applications has been attributed to a number of factors including: communication challenges between Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) and the applicants; failure to submit required fees; failure to meet the set criteria; poor drafting and withdrawal of the application by the applicants.
- Most patents granted to agriculture, forestry and fishing
- Mining and quarrying granted the least
The low rate of industrial property protection is viewed as one of the hindrances to commercialization of research products and harnessing innovation. Where inventors do not protect their ideas, they have little control over the same, which leaves them vulnerable to imitation, infringement and piracy.
What options to facilitate protection of industrial property in Kenya?
While acknowledging the steps being taken by the government in attempts to foster innovation, including the enactment of the STI Act (2013) and the creation of the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) with a mandate to develop and manage Kenya’s national innovation system, the study recommends a set of actions to enhance the realization of benefits from the intellectual property rights protection including:
- Intensive education and awareness on the criteria for protection under the various categories (patents, utility models and industrial designs) .
- Provide institutional support for local applicants.
- Provide financial support for local inventors obtain IP protection.
- Promote partnerships and collaborations.
- Promote competitive ranking in universities and include IP applications/grants (patents, utility models and industrial designs) as part of the evaluation criteria
- Include IP in the staff recruitment and promotion criteria for university and research institutes’ staff