Patent and trademark applications in Kenya hit a record high of 7,788 last year, surpassing requests recorded in the country’s history and signalling increased awareness among innovators on the need to protect their intellectual property rights.
However, the number of patents granted reduced to 245 despite 914 applications compared to the 410 patents granted in 2017, according to data released by Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi).
Kipi Managing Director Sylvance Sange said most of the applications did not meet the requisite conditions and were therefore rejected.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for the protection of an invention. To be granted, the invention must be new, be capable of being used in some kind of industry and must not be obvious.
“Some of these applications did not meet the requirements of the Industrial Property Act (IPA 2001) on patentability such as novelty, inventive step, industrial applicability,” he said.
The law stipulates that all provisional patent applications should be automatically withdrawn by the Industrial Property Administration System (IPAS) upon expiry of 12 months from the date of filing.
“The IPA 2001 provides that a complete or final specification shall be submitted before the expiry of 12 months from date of lodging of the provisional patent application failure to which the application is deemed not to have been properly filled and the system lapses it automatically,” explained Mr Sange.
Again, out of the 6,874 trademarks applications made last year only 5,331 were granted which was again a drop from the 5,705 granted in 2017.
A trademark is a distinctive sign used by a business to identify its goods or services and to distinguish them from those produced or provided by others. Registration of a trademark protects the trademark owner against misuse, imitation or dilution through use in unrelated goods or services.
For instance last year, Kipi gave retired President Daniel arap Moi exclusive rights to use the name Kabarak which means no organisation can sell or market any goods or services under that name.
In 2017, the number of patent and trademark applications stood at 790 and 5,705 respectively.
With the country expected to host a number of conferences on Copyright and Development Agenda next, reasons behind the decline in successful applications may form part of the discussions.
Kipi data shows that most innovators opted to withdraw their applications midway while some failed to complete the rigorous course work.
In Kenya, patenting takes about two years in addition to the 18 months waiting period stipulated under the law before a patent application can be published and later gazetted once granted.
However, minor inventions referred to as utility models may, upon meeting the requirements, be granted in about five months upon request for accelerated publication/processing.
A utility model is a special form of patent right granted by a State or jurisdiction to an inventor or the inventor’s assignee for a fixed period of time. The terms and conditions of grant differ slightly from those for normal patents, including a shorter term of protection and less stringent eligibility requirements.
According to the Kipis boss, the number of patent applications filed by Kenyan innovators is relatively low compared to other countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia with which Kenya benchmarks on economic development.
“In our view, as a country, we are on the right track. This, however, requires a lot of human, infrastructure and financial resources to build capacity on patent drafting,” he said.
Mr Sange attributed the low patent applications to low level of commercial exploitation of intellectual property rights that requires increased funding, human and infrastructure resources to build capacity on patent drafting.
“This could be attributed to low level of awareness on intellectual property generation, protection, commercialisation and enforcement, as well as technology transfer,” he said.
Some of the notable patents granted include Mwitari Paul Gitobu’s environmentally friendly cement production technology, Abebe Kifetew Assena’s rotary injera baking machine and Wanja Hannah Dahlheim’s topical composition for treatment of hair loss and stimulating hair growth.
The country has, however, made a steady growth in the number of patent applications since 2000 amid efforts by the government to support researchers and make it easier for inventors to protect intellectual property.
Globally, Kenya was among the eight countries that recorded between 100-999 applications in 2017 with the continent registering 16,000 applications.
According to the World Industrial Property Organisation (Wipo) statistics, China topped the lists in the number of applications recorded for patents, trademarks, utility models, industrial designs and plant varieties.
In 2017, at least 3.17 million patent applications were filed with technology companies topping the list. They include Canon Inc, Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies, Toshiba KK and LG Electronics.
“The long-term trend shows that patent applications worldwide have grown every year since 2003, with the exception of 2009 when they decreased by 3.8 percent due to the financial crisis,” the report indicated.
China registered 1.3 million patent applications in 2017, which is double the number of applications filed by United States (US) at 606,956. The Asian giant also filed 5.7 million trademarks application again followed by US at 613,921 and Japan with 560,269.
Intellectual rights for plant varieties recorded the least applications across the world at 18,490.
China has a stake of 43 percent in the total number of applications in the world which stood at 3,168,900.
According to a recent article published by Bloomberg, despite huge numbers of filings, most patents are discarded by their fifth year as those applying for the licences balk at paying escalating fees.
A total of 129,929 trademarks have so far been registered in Kenya as companies and individuals move to gain exclusive rights to a name or symbol.
“Compared to other countries of the same level of development, we are on the right track in terms of trade marks. We are doing considerably well and the number of applications has been steadily rising,” said Mr Sange.
According to the Wipo report, around 1.76 million utility model applications were filed worldwide in 2017 with China accounting for 95.8 percent of the world total and rest of the counties accounted for just 4.2 percent.
Kenya was ranked position 75 globally in the number of patent applications, position 72 with regard to trademarks and position 84 in filing for industrial designs. African countries ranking above Kenya included South Africa and Morocco.