Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Kenya: a patent lawyer observes ... education in science and law

Afro IP is pleased to host a third guest contribution from Dr Isaac Rutenberg, an American patent lawyer living in Kenya.  Isaac, who directs the Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology (CIPIT) at Strathmore Law School, writes:
My graduate degrees are in Chemistry and in Law. To me, this is perfectly natural, and many of my friends in America have similar backgrounds. Any time I tell this to people in Kenya, I am met with amazement and disbelief. I can hear them thinking “why would anybody study both chemistry and law?“

Unlike in America, law is an undergraduate subject in Kenya so the vast majority of lawyers have no training beyond their training in the law. After law school, lawyers here (it is hoped) find jobs; I have heard of no instances where they pursue an additional degree or additional training in science/technology.

At CIPIT, I have been training patent drafting skills. Both legal and scientific literacy are needed for the task. I originally assumed that it would be easier to train an inventor the required legal skills rather than training a lawyer the required technology skills. I have since decided that both are hard, and neither is necessarily “better” or “easier”.  As long as the trainee is not scared away by scientific or legal technical terms, the main inquiry seems to be whether the individual is dedicated and focused.

If there is ever to be a good number of patent drafting professionals in Kenya, people need to believe that a living can be made doing such work. But if nobody is doing the work, then the number of patent applications stays low. If the number of applications is low, there is a perception (actually a misconception – see my earlier diary entry here) that there is no demand for drafting skills.  This Catch-22 is one of several reasons that patent drafting is a skill that remains elusive in Kenya.

So what of the scientific literacy that is needed for patent work? In the case of chemistry, without a doubt one needs a formal education to do any patent work. In other fields such as mechanical devices, I know that non-scientist lawyers can learn enough to draft good applications. My lawyer trainees have shown this, at least so far.

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