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Why Kenyan schools should put in place intellectual property policies

US President Barack Obama when he visited the M-Kopa stand at the Power Africa Innovation Fair last year  on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. M-Kopa and an import-export  firm are claiming exclusive rights to the trade name. PHOTO | AFP
US President Barack Obama when he visited the M-Kopa stand at the Power Africa Innovation Fair last year on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. PHOTO | AFP 

A fortnight ago a former schoolmate at Precious Blood Secondary School (Riruta) was the first runner-up in a global innovation contest.

The contest recognises girl schools’ technological innovations. The M-Safari app, developed by the school’s Team Sniper, is meant to ease the process of booking and paying for public transport.

This is a great achievement for a school from a developing country. A few months ago schools converged at the annual music and drama festival to present songs, poems and plays.

There was also a regional drama and music festival held in Uganda where Kenya’s Kaaga Girls High School performed quite well. The Science Congress, held annually, showcases students’ various scientific innovations. The best win awards.

Copyright protection
Despite these efforts, there is a need for schools to put in place intellectual property (IP) policies. I am aware that many institutions of higher learning have put in place IP policies.

However, most primary and secondary schools do not have such policies even as they generate hundreds of innovations annually.

Other creations, other than scientific innovations, qualify for copyright protection too. During my time at Precious Blood each dormitory was required to compose a choral and a traditional dance in preparation for the drama and music festival.

Winning pieces made it to the national competition. This practice cuts across most Kenyan schools. Such works qualify for copyright protection. The Science Technology and Innovation Act sets out the legal framework for innovations in Kenya.

There is also an innovation agency which deals with the same. Schools can benefit from national intellectual property policies.

However, individual schools can still come up with their own IP policies. Without going into the process of regulatory approval of such policies, here is why schools should have some form of IP policy.

An IP policy will form the basis for protection of innovations and artistic creations and serve as the cornerstone of intellectual property rights.
It will prevent abuse or plagiarism of a school’s creations.

A policy will create room for IP commercialisation and set up a source of extra revenue for schools. For example, a school can choose to secure IP protection of its works and licence a third party to produce the same in exchange for royalties. M-Safari, for example, can be protected and licensed to a large software developer to commercialise it and pay licence fees to the school.

IP policies can generate extra revenue for the government.

They will also motivate staff and students to be more creative and innovative as, other than the usual national awards, there is room for giving property right recognition. For example, a student who innovates a product or service can be recognised in the patent certificate.

The policies can be an additional tool to gauge a school’s performance, other than academic performance.

IP policies will promote creativity in schools and encourage more innovations which will in turn be good for the overall economy.
Mputhia is the founder of C Mputhia Advocates. [email protected]

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