Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Diary of a Kenyan Patent Agent: agents per capita

Patent offices do more than register patents – they also register people. In order to represent other people before a national patent office, a lawyer or scientist must typically be registered with the patent office. In some countries such as the US and UK, registration involves passing an examination to show that the individual understands the patent system (and, in some cases, knows how to draft a patent). In other countries such as Kenya, registration does not require a test – the only requirements are a form and a fee.

In it’s 200+ year history, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has registered over 72000 patent agents (you can search their database here).  With a population in the US of roughly 313,000,000, and assuming about half of registered patent agents are “active” (e.g., are not dead)*, that equates to about 1 patent agent for every 8,700 people.

The Kenya Industrial Property Institute has registered about 340 patent agents (a PDF of the patent agent list can be found here). With a population in Kenya of roughly 43,000,000, and now assuming that all patent agents are “active”, that equates to about 1 patent agent for every 126,000 people.
"Is this the line to see a patent agent?"
Unknown Artist
This Leo would never suggest that the US system should be the ideal model for Kenya or for any other country. Nevertheless the numbers beg the question – are the low number of patents filed/granted in Kenya (and, presumably, elsewhere) due in part to the lack of agents to help inventors? Given that there is no exam to tell whether a patent agent has the necessary knowledge/skills to prepare patents, the number of “qualified” patent agents must be even lower – which means that good help is indeed hard to find!

The other option is that a lack of inventors and therefore a lack of demand (or perhaps simply a lack of interest in the patent system by inventors) has caused there to be very few patent agents. Anecdotal experience and stories tend to debunk these theories.

* a factor of 50% for “active” agents is a rough estimate. This Leo obtained a registration number in the 57,000s about 10 years ago, and his mentors (most of whom were over 50 years of age at the time) had registration numbers in the low 30,000s. Plus, in the last 10 years, an additional 15,000 agents have been added to the register! Clearly patents remain a booming business in the US.

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