This post is based on a recent article written by Issac Rutenberg and published in the Guardian on the issue of whether the western notion of IP rights as seen in the TRIPS framework is suitable for developing countries. The author takes Kenya as an example to prove his case.The post looks at the extremely low numbers of patents issued by the Kenyan Patents Office compared with developed countries such as the US. He stresses on the fact that only a negligible number of the patents issued by Kenya are granted to local Kenyan individuals or organisations. Analysing the root cause of this scenario, the author argues that it is the lack of access to patent expertise to draft suitable patent applications and not the lack of innovation or entrepreneurship in Kenya. The obvious solution to this problem is to train Kenyan lawyers and others in Africa in the skills of drafting and obtaining patents. However, as this is a process that requires a long-term commitment without yielding much benefits in the short-term, local interest in such training is minimal.
At this juncture, the author addresses the question of whether the need of the day is to find a solution to the lack of expertise or whether it is to revamp the patent system in the developing countries to a model better suited to them rather than expecting them to conform to a Western model. This question is especially pertinent, the author argues as the Western system, many a time, does promote innovation, the basic purpose of patent systems. In fact, the credit for the high level of innovation in Kenya today cannot be attributed to the Western patent system in place there today, especially considering the low number of patents in Kenya, according to the author.
The existing Western system does bring with it the benefits of “WTO membership and safeguarding one’s intellectual property.” However, the author argues that “the fact is that on balance, the western patent model is not yet helpful to most Kenyan – or African – entrepreneurs.” The author ends on the note that while measures must be undertaken so that Kenyans can make maximum use of the existing patent system, the idea of an alternative patent system for developing countries is also worth considering.