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Low funding has hampered public sensitisation on property rights even as young Kenyan innovators are increasingly worried how to protect their works.
Low funding has hampered public sensitisation on property rights even as young Kenyan innovators are increasingly worried how to protect their works.

Kenya Industrial Property Institute and Kenya Copyright Board say they lack funds to raise awareness and recruit professionals.

“Our main concern is low levels of awareness that manifest in the confusion on rights and qualification for individual patent, trademark or copyright,” said KIPI managing director Henry Kibet Mutai.

He said this year, the agency could only secure Sh5 million for outreach programmes out of a planned Sh20 million.

Extend coverage

“What we are now doing is target researchers in institutions such as universities and SMEs but obviously we need to extend coverage,” Dr Mutai told the Sunday Nation on Friday.

Other than the funding concerns, the Copy Right Board senior public communication officer, Ms Rosemary Waithaka, noted the organisation had a paltry 35 employees covering the entire country.

“New challenges in corporate law are coming up every day and with the anticipated ICT explosion, the board has tried to establish useful links in academia and with private companies to enforce its mandate,” Ms Waithaka said in an interview.

“We are seeing many young people come up with new technology inventions and the big question is how well prepared we are as a country to protect them from exploitation,” she said.

The KIPI and the Copy right Board comments have come in the backdrop of a recent software development dispute pitying mobile phone service provider Safaricom and Faulu Kenya.

The micro-finance organisation has sued Safaricom over copyright of M-Shwari, a product enabling the mobile company’s Mpesa clients to save and borrow money using their mobile phones.

Safaricom partnered with Commercial Bank of Africa to launch the product last month but Faulu Kenya is crying foul, claiming it developed the idea in 2011 and the mobile company stole it.

Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore on Thursday denied the allegations and accused the micro-finance company of malice. He said they will challenge the matter.

According to Faulu Kenya, it shared the idea with Safaricom the same year with a possibility of collaborating but now laments the mobile firm went ahead to violate a non-disclosure agreement in their shared concept paper.

On Monday the company went to court seeking orders to permanently bar Safaricom from using M-Shwari. It is also seeking unspecified damages.

Faulu Kenya also says it was already offering a similar service under the brand name of Kopa Chapaa, in partnership with Airtel.

In yet another dispute, an employee of Kenya Revenue Authority has sued his employer over a tax collection software he has developed.

The employee has gone to court to stop KRA from advertising for services of a similar nature from private companies.

He argues the corporation had breached its employee-relation rules.

Earlier during the interview with the Sunday Nation, Dr Mutai said Kenyan innovators risked losing if they did not act fast to operationalise their ideas.

False belief

“There is tendency to confuse innovation for invention. There is also the false belief one could protect an idea through patent or copyright,” cautioned the KIPI boss.

He further said they was widespread misuse of trademark involving import and export trade, with some traders manipulating them to lock out competition.

“There are those who have rushed to register trademarks irregularly and KIPI has had to deregister some once complaints are received,” he said.

The Copyright Board advised young entrepreneurs to move with caution when marketing their ideas or products to the corporate world.

“We are telling them to always engage lawyers when peddling some of their innovations and share little information when they are still in the development stage,” said Ms Waithaka.