Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) have launched an initiative to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups protect their innovation from copycats.
The initiative, dubbed the inventor assistance program, was developed to make the patenting system more accessible to financially under-resourced inventors, who have novel inventions that have market applications. It is currently in its pilot stage.
“Currently, we have a program that exempts youth below 35 years from paying any fees to have their patents processed. But we now, want to make this possible for all MSMEs and individual inventors, with challenges in paying the fees required for registration of their patents,” noted KIPI CEO John Onyango.
The program will grant these inventors the support, knowledge, tools and resources they need to file applications, undergo substantive examination and access the patents.
Indeed, in spite of the importance of intellectual property protection, many innovators in Kenya still find it very difficult to access patents, copyright, trademarks, industrial designs, geographical indications and traditional knowledge, used to protect their inventions.
Secure a trademark
For instance, to get a patent, an innovator has to pay a filing fee of Sh3,000 due when the application is filed, publication fee of Sh3,000 due after 18 months from the filing date, examination fee of Sh5,000 due within three years from the filing date, and grant fee of Sh3,000 due once the patent has been accepted for grant.
Meanwhile, to secure a trademark, one has to pay about Sh12,000 with Sh3,000 captured as cost of carrying out a search to ascertain whether your trademark, brand name, logo, signature or slogan is already registered by another entity. Once you have carried out a search, you pay Sh4,000 for registration, Sh3,000 for advertisement, and another Sh2, 000 to facilitate a final registration.
Worth noting is that it also takes very long to process some of these IPs. It takes an average of 19 months to get patent for utility model in Kenya, whereas the trademark registration process could take up to four months. At least three months are for taking into account any third-party objections after the trademark is advertised.
What this, of course, does is stall an innovator from introducing their product to the market. If they do that before the patent is ready, they risk having their ideas duplicated with nothing to help them get compensation for infringement of their IP.
The inventor assistance program is also expected to help create more awareness among the innovation ecosystem on IP. Lack of proper awareness on IP has seen innovators in Africa lose out, after having invested so much into their research.
“Many innovators do not know that patents in Kenya are protected through Kenya Industrial Property Institute, and that it is also possible to obtain a patent through the Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), which is a regional intergovernmental organisation mandated to grant patents on behalf of its member states, of which Kenya is one of them. Copyrights (literally, artistic works and computer programs) are protected through Kenya Copyright Board KECOBO,” explained Onyango.
He says in more developed economies such as the US, China, and parts of Europe, everything that is done, so long as it is innovative, is protected because it could be revolutionary. An innovator can sell their idea to private companies for millions, without having to bring it to life on their own. IP can also be used as collateral to secure funding from financial institutions.
“We are working with institutions of higher learning to educate researchers on the importance of protecting their intellectual property. IP is only taught in law classes, but scholars studying for courses such as technology, medicine and engineering also need to learn how to protect their research findings,” noted Onyango.