Wednesday, 22 May 2013


Observations of a Patent Lawyer in Kenya 6: Science Week

From 13-17 May the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST) held the second annual National Science, Technology, and Innovation Week in Nairobi. The theme was ‘Science, Technology and Innovation for the Realization of Kenya Vision 2030 and Beyond’.
The Thinker by Gibran Khalil Gibran

What a roller coaster of emotions/thoughts for a patent lawyer this event turned out to be!

First came a realization: the vast majority of the innovations at the show will likely never be patented. A variety of reasons explain this, but here is one example. Many of the inventors went to KIPI and filed an application, but most of the applications were likely written by the inventors due to the lack of patent drafting professionals in Kenya. KIPI will likely find many of the applications as lacking in one of the criteria for a patent (novelty, inventive step, written description, enablement, etc.). Indeed, KIPI issues only a dozen or so patents per year from locally filed applications.

Next came introspection: does it matter?  In other words, would patents be of any help to these innovators? Some of the patents would be simply too difficult to enforce because the likely infringers are not big companies but rather many small-scale “jua kali” (artisans working often without an official business, storefront, etc.). Some of the inventors have no intention of selling the same product for more than 18 months, which is the time it takes KIPI to publish a patent application and for provisional rights to attach (see my earlier post). For a handful of the inventions, patent protection made a lot of sense, but for many others, I found myself unsure of the value a patent would provide.

Finally came admiration: despite the above, Kenya clearly is not lacking in innovative people and ideas. I was thrilled by the novelty of some of the inventions (public phone with swap-able SIM slot), the creative of others (water hyacinth-based paper), and even the audacity of a few (transgenic fungal biopesticides, anybody?).

And now a word of caution!!  I met one inventor who filed a provisional application in KIPI in 2011. He didn’t realize that the application is now (in 2013) abandoned, and that he had no protection whatsoever. So by displaying his invention at the Science show, he had lost his rights in most countries to file a regular patent application! At least in Kenya there is a 1-year grace period so he can still file for local protection…



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16 July 2013 at 12:51 delete

Paper from Eichhornia crassipes has a bit of prior, see: Gloor, A.M. and R.P. Gloor, 1950 Paper from water hyacinth. Australian patent 138, 426. August 21, 1950. Meanwhile I'm just off to make a "water hyacinth fiber mattress" (CN102835208) :-)