The World Intellectual Property Day (WIPD) is celebrated by Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on every 26th of April. This coincides with the date on which the Convention establishing WIPO originally entered into force in 1970. Year in, year out, the WIPD theme tend to revolve around creativity and innovation. In 2017, the theme was “Innovation – Improving Lives” and WIPO released this theme earlier than usual to aid in preparations by member states to mark the day. This year’s theme took this blogger back to WIPD 2012 when we celebrated “Visionary Innovators” with emphasis on people whose innovations transform our lives.
Kenya celebrated WIPD 2012 by mounting various activities including stakeholders’ conference, exhibition, procession and industrial design competition. We even remixed the theme to “Recognizing Visionary Innovators for Industrial Development” to incorporate our country’s proposed development policies that pin-point at strengthening intellectual property (IP) rights protection to respond to wealth creation, industrialization and contribute to Vision 2030. Fast forward to to WIPD 2017, we have failed as a country to find creative and innovative ways to own and properly celebrate this important day in the IP calendar.
For a country like Kenya, WIPD should be the culmination of continuous introspection, planning and coordination about how we can make the IP system better, fairer, more accessible, more user-friendly and more robust for the millions of people who live and work within our borders. WIPD is meant to be an outreach event led by the national IP offices, other IP-related institutions, IP practitioners and IP stakeholders to ‘spread the gospel of IP’ to every corner of our country. IP evangelism is certainly not a one-day affair but WIPD is that one day where all the IP literati ought to sacrifice their valuable time and get out of their places of work and do their part to raise the low levels of IP awareness in the country. In this regard, one may say that the WIPD 2012 may have had more of an impact than the WIPD 2017 since the procession through the streets of Nairobi and the ceremonial burning of counterfeits at Uhuru Park may have turned a few heads in the capital and got people asking: “what is this IP thing everyone is talking about today?”
The lack of creativity and innovation in the way we mark WIPD reflects a larger problem within our IP institutions. We need fresh thinking and new ideas on increasing IP awareness from the centre and devolving it to the rest of the country. Very often, our IP institutions claim that they lack the resources to adequately carry out public outreach and sensitisation to the masses on IP matters, yet there is very little evidence that resources are the major problem if the WIPD events they have organised are anything to go by! In the past, many observers have blasted the IP institutions for organising poorly publicised events where they are ‘preaching to the converted’. Indeed, there is need to move away from the auditoriums, ballrooms, boardrooms and conference venues of Nairobi and find practical ways of reaching out to the millions of creators and innovators scattered all around us who are hungry for basic IP information and assistance.