Law Society of Kenya president Nelson Havi recently made an urgent appeal to a group of Kenyatta University students who had just completed assembling their prototype of a ventilator aimed at potentially saving lives of Covid-19 patients locally.
At the core of Mr Havi’s call was that the creativity and innovativeness of these brilliant young Kenyans needed to be legally secured from imminent theft.
This is just one case but there are numerous innovations being developed by our Kenyan youth who end up being edged out at the commercialisation phase of their ingenious mental outputs.
Certainly our youth need to understand Intellectual Property Rights 101. Though an overwhelming majority of them will never receive a pro bono call from any intellectual property lawyer, or be part of my Technology and Innovation class at South Eastern Kenya University, they need to know that the law grants them exclusive rights to creations of their minds.
The youth should jealously protect their patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and industrial designs just as much (if not more) as older generation protect their real estate, livestock and coffee and tea bushes.
As a country we are slowly moving from agriculture dominant economy to a knowledge based economy. Value and wealth will soon no longer be determined by acreage of land or heads of cattle owned but by mental assets possessed.
The value of this modern class of asset will outpace that of the old class.
To our youth, ignorance and misinformation (at least in matters IP) are their greatest enemy.
They cannot mount a formidable defence of their intellectual property from a position of misconception.
Our youth need to understand that the law grants them exclusive use and commercial benefit of their patented inventions for 20 years.
They need to know they can legally have exclusive use of their trademarks indefinitely. For their copyrights, they should know that the law grants them protection against infringement for one’s lifetime plus 50 years after death.
They also need to know that it does not cost an arm and a leg to register intellectual property in Kenya. In fact, not registering can be a grossly expensive oversight.
With as little as Sh1,500 one can register a copyright. Registering a trademark costs as low as Sh16,000 while patents cost a little more.
The registration period may span from a few months for copyright and trademarks to about two years for patents.
As the youth endeavour to seek this knowledge I can only hope that the Kenya Industrial Property Institute, other relevant government bodies including enforcement agencies and institutions of higher learning are also working hard to take the same knowledge to the youth and protect their intellectual property.
If all parties play their role Kenya will certainly rank better than position 82 out of 125 in the Intellectual Rights Global Index that it attained in 2018.
Most importantly, our youth will reap maximum dividends from their intellectual investments and will be even more motivated to re-invest in their minds.
Kevin Wachira, lecturer, South Eastern Kenya University, Kitui