QUESTION: Dear Cathy, I am a member of a science club and during our discussions we came up with an idea of powering gyms with kinetic energy from the users. Our idea involves building machines and gadgets which would enable conversion.
Our physics lecturer approved the idea noting that one form of energy can be converted into another. He asked us to do further research and get back to him. We are however concerned on how to protect our idea through intellectual property rights.
Dear Frank, what an innovative idea! Before we even get to how to legally protect yourself, I would want to give you a few tips at the infant stage. The first thing I would counsel is that you sign an agreement amongst yourselves and lecturer controlling external disclosure.
The same agreement called a non-disclosure agreement ought to be signed by any other third party before revealing any information to them at this stage.
I would want to clarify to you that an idea that exists only in the mind cannot be legally protected. You must therefore take steps to express your idea through tangible media. For example, why don’t you write a concept paper or draw the designs of the gadgets and machinery that will be used in your gym project?
This concept paper and drawings are what the law shall protect. There are many types of intellectual property rights, and your project being a sophisticated one may well qualify for mutli-protection under more than one class of intellectual property.
Remember the concept paper and drawings I described above? This is what is known as copyright which protects artistic ideas expressed in various forms like writing and drawings. This is the protection you can get immediately even before proceeding with the project.
Visit the Kenya Copyright Board website and create an account for yourself and follow the steps therein to get a copyright.
I believe as the project matures you may stand a good chance at other forms of protection. One is industrial designs. Once you have designed the gadgets or machines and have a miniature proto-type of the same in 3 dimensional form then you can pursue the class of protection known as industrial designs.
Simply put this type of intellectual property protection protects novel shapes in 3 dimensional form. This is why you must have a sort of proto-type in 3D form. By the way this is the type of protection granted for new models of vehicles, ships, planes and even perfume bottles.
This explains why car manufacturers do not copy each other’s car models as the external shapes are protected by law.
To patent or not? In Kenya, you stand a 50-50 chance of getting one as our law is stringent. A patent is a right given to novel inventions in technology and science. Patent processing is a very rigorous expensive process and before you begin you must be sure that you meet the novelty test.
It is not the idea that should be new but the application of science to your project. Are you going to come up with a new technology or scientific formula?
There are patent search databases that can help you ascertain novelty. Frank for this protection I would advice you work with a patent agent and an intellectual property lawyer.
You stand a higher chance of getting a utility model which is similar to a patent only that the requirements are less stringent. Industrial designs, patents and utility models are done by a patent agent at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute Offices.