So you have a brilliant business idea, the one you believe can stimulate the market and earn you millions in revenue.
Or maybe you have even tried it in the market and seen it bear handsome fruits.
Before you sit pretty expecting to reap big from it going forward, you have to move fast and protect it if you have not done so.
Someone can steal it and in a twinkle of an eye you lose ownership and all the income that appertains to it.
This is because that idea is not fully yours until it is protected.
Kenya’s stature as a hub for innovation is rapidly rising and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in July underlined this.
Local entrepreneurs come up with one ingenious idea after another.
We have seen such fascinating ideas as a security search robot, growing Napier grass without soil, a mobile phone voting system, a diesel-powered mobile kitchen, ad infinitum.
All these must be protected so that the inventors enjoy the fruits of their creativity.
Money sought to delve into the nuts and bolts of how to secure intellectual property with the agency tasked with this mandate.
Kenya Industrial Property Institute Acting Managing Director Sylvance Sange said just like any other property like land and motor vehicles, an idea is not solely yours until you protect it.
“Anyone can take an unprotected idea, use it to make money and even claim its originality as long as the real owner fails to use the relevant protection avenues,” Mr Sange told Money in his office, adding that an idea becomes a property only when it is protected. “Something that is not a property cannot be stolen.”
Using the analogy of land ownership, the KIPI boss said if you have a plot without a title deed, you have a limited claim over it and you are constrained from making investments on it.
The same applies to an idea.
To convert an idea into a commercial asset and derive economic value from it, you have to protect it.
Intellectual property gives you the right to own, transfer, import and use the idea as granted in the certificate which you get.
The government has agencies mandated to assist an innovator to convert an idea into a property. KIPI and the Kenya Copyrights Board (Kecobo) are such institutions.
What if you have a viable idea but lack the ability to develop it into a commercial venture? Never worry as there is an institution tasked with providing the necessary support.
The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), a semi-autonomous agency, is an advisory institution to the government on matters of science and technology.
It guides innovators on how to implement their ideas and reap benefits.
Those who lack funds to develop their ideas are advised to lease them out by licensing other people to use them and generate revenue.
Mr sange used the land ownership analogy again to drive his point home: “It is like having land which you cannot develop. You can lease it out to someone who can use it for businesses and then get revenue. Remember this is only possible when you have the legal protection,” Mr Sange emphasised.
One is also required to conduct a search, just like the ones done on tangible property, before purchasing an idea. There are also measures to ensure that one does not compromise public interest by either failing to implement a viable idea or wrongfully implementing it.
KIPI says in Kenya awareness on the importance of protecting an idea is rising.
Protection of an idea however as an expiry date. Inventions are protected for up to 20 years, patents are granted for a maximum of 10 years, industrial designs for 15 years while trademarks have unlimited periods subject to renewals every 10 years.
Information on protected ideas and the expiry of such protection is found in journals published on the agency’s website.
KIPI says the limited period for protection of an idea is meant to enhance speedy implementation.
It is also aimed at preventing a situation where others are locked out permanently from coming up with similar ideas. The overall objective is to promote industrialisation.
The government may also intervene in the implementation of your protected idea.
This happens in a context where public interest would be served with implementation of the idea.
A medical invention for example, that solves a health crisis, and which the owner has protected but is not implementing it, may be acquired at a fee by the government and goes ahead to use it.
Mr Sange says one should be able to derive economic benefits from an idea as soon as it is protected.
The only way you can get returns is when you commercialise the idea.
Protection is only a means to an end and not an end in itself.
You better rent it out to someone because there are people out there with money and no ideas. It (selling ideas) is an emerging market which people can make equally lucrative income from,” Mr Sange advises.
An infringement on a protected idea can lead to compensation to the originator.
In trademarks, something that is identical with what is registered or similar in a way that it can cause confusion, is considered as infringing on the original idea.
It takes no less than 18 months to patent an idea as it has be tried in the market.
This does not mean that during this period you just sit idle.
You can start exploiting it as soon as you file for protection.
The effective date of the grant is the day you file for protection, not the day the certificate is granted.
“This is different from an idea that has been presented in the public domain like innovation conferences. If one does that then takes more than a year before taking the steps to protect it, another person may contest his acquisition of patent on the grounds that it is not new,” Mr Sange said.
Protection of ideas is also territorial. This means if you protect an idea in Kenya and want to implement it in Uganda for example, you have to protect it in Uganda as well.
What is protected in Kenya cannot be copied in Kenya.
However, what is not protected in Kenya, even if it is protected elsewhere, can be copied in Kenya.
“We are transiting from the era where sweat and muscles used to ear into knowledge driven innovative society that can transfer knowledge we have the resource in our brains to be globally competitive,” Mr Sange concluded.