CIPIT’s bi-annual moot competition aims to be innovative and to attract teams from across East Africa, and the 2018 edition was no exception. This year’s edition was particularly significant being the first moot in Sub-Saharan Africa to focus on Information Technology(IT) Law. The 2018 moot problem addressed the complexities of innovation, privacy and data protection in jurisdictions that operate in a legal vacuum with respect to data privacy. Therefore, participating students were able to interact with the topics of privacy and data protection and grapple with the ambiguities these cutting-edge issues pose in the legal field. This was also an excellent opportunity for CIPIT to highlight the trickle- down effect of innovations to the recurring concerns of data protection, and to nurture the interest of the young generation in IT law and policy.Continue reading
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Over the past few years, Kenya’s innovation scene has come to the limelight, resulting in some naming the country as the technology hub of Africa. Some of the factors that have led to this acclaim are the growing number of shared working spaces, young technology enthusiasts, incubators where developers are mentored and trained, and a craze for mobile application development. The Open AIR team in Kenya- comprised of Dr. Isaac Rutenberg, Victor Nzomo, Louisa Matu-Mureithi and myself, is conducting research on mobile innovation in Kenya. As a researcher on the team, I am helping to conduct research in the case study entitled “Open Collaborative Models of Mobile Tech Innovation in Kenya.”
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The editors of Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making describe it as a ‘book of arguments and ideas’ and this blogger agrees with this analysis. Published in 2017 and originally published in 2016, a copy of the e-book is freely available under open access. The focus of the book is Kenya’s entrepreneurial revolution in the tech sector. Digital Kenya is authored and edited in a very interesting way; 14 key figures in the Kenya’s tech startup scene were interviewed (including Jay Larson, co-founder of the Tunapanda Institute discussed in a post here) and they provide a unique insight into the inner workings of the Kenyan tech scene and what it takes to be a digital entrepreneur, in addition the book was written by professors, contributors and scholars and edited by Bitange Ndemo and Tim Weiss.
A few weeks ago, the President Mwai Kibaki launched a KES 900 Billion ($14.5bn) project to build a new technology city: Konza, intended to be an IT business hub and dubbed “Africa’s Silicon Savannah”.
Many may know that Konza is part of the government’s Vision 2030 initiative to improve much-neglected infrastructure over the next two decades or so. It is hoped that more than 20,000 IT jobs will be created in Konza by 2015, and more than 200,000 jobs by 2030.
According to the official Konza website, this Techno City will include:
– Modern Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) Park
– Science Park
– Convention Center
– Mega Mall
– Data Centres
– World-class Hotels
– Local and International Schools
– World Class Hospitals
– Championship Golf Course
– Financial District
– High Speed Mass Transport System
– Residential Housing
– Superior Modern Integrated Infrastructure, Roads, Sewer, electricity and Telecommunications networks and Integrated security system, among other features
Top among the key sectors expected to drive growth of Konza City are Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Software Development and Data Centers. On paper, there is no doubt that intellectual property (IP) issues in the context of Konza will be abound.
For more context on the impact and importance of Konza, CIPIT Director Dr. Isaac Rutenberg provides this insight based on his involvement and experiences with the Silicon Valley in the USA:
The history of Silicon Valley is colorful, dramatic, and intriguing, and has been the subject of extensive analysis.
The initial successes of the Valley were largely in the area of hardware. William Shockley, the inventor (and patent-holder) of the transistor, moved from Bell Labs to Silicon Valley in the 1950s to found a company that is today known as Fairchild Semiconductor. Enormous resources poured into the Valley in the form of Government defense contracts. Stanford University, Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), and Xerox PARC were hotbeds of innovation. All of these big players required serious legal services because they were building an industry. There was much in the way of overlap, mergers, spin-offs, IP battles, and technology transfer (authorized and unauthorized!) between the players.
From years of living and practicing IP law in Silicon Valley, I can say that the culture of innovation does not always go hand-in-hand with a savvy understanding of IP. Inventors and innovators generally couldn’t care less about patents and branding – they merely want to invent and keep on innovating. Nevertheless, for every prolific inventor in the Valley there is someone who understands how to use IP to build a successful start-up. In my mind, this is the critical factor that has resulted in decades of success. Countless incredibly smart inventors and scientists are crammed into a relatively small region with equally countless business people and legal professionals that understand how to acquire and leverage IP.
The Silicon Savannah will not replicate Silicon Valley – it cannot and should not try. But it can be modeled after the Valley, and can certainly learn from the experiences of the Valley. Certainly, Silicon Savannah will need innovation as a starting point. Innovation is something Kenyans do frequently and do well. But as the Valley model suggests, it is not enough to just have inventors – success also requires competent business people and legal services, particularly in the area of IP.
A dramatic difference between Silicon Savannah and Silicon Valley is that the former will necessarily function on a substantially international level from the very beginning. The Valley had the benefit of a vast US market, and did not initially rely substantially on international activities. Times have changed, and international activities are critical in the area of ICT. So it is increasingly clear that the Savannah will succeed only if it learns to navigate international channels of innovation, technology transfer, and business. This means being savvy in IP, because more than ever before the international currency in business is based on IP.
Konza City will significantly test our savvy-ness.
In a Strathmore University auditorium modestly filled with guests, students and staff, Dr. Eric Schmidt spoke for exactly 12 minutes. Many of those present may have “googled” Schmidt and discovered that the man standing before them was the Executive Chairman at Google, and no. 138 on the Forbes Billionaires List.
Schmidt’s message was simple: every problem facing the world today can be solved by education. However in order to achieve this ultimate goal of having an educated citizenry, there must be empowerment. Schmidt argues that technology has and will continue to be a source of empowerment for individuals and therefore we must endeavour to have more innovation and connectivity. According to Schmidt, the best innovations have been those that solve old problems in new ways. He encourages innovators, inventors and developers to take advantage of Google’s existing platforms to build upon, customise and develop their own products and services that they will have full intellectual property rights over.
During the Q&A session, it was indeed refreshing to hear several students ask Schmidt IP law related questions focusing mainly on copyright issue. One concern raised was in connection with digital piracy and the role google plays in either encouraging or discouraging this vice. Schmidt’s response was that Google made the decision that it would not censor the internet and it would keep the internet open. However, Google wants to ensure that find infringing and/or pirated content is made as difficult as possible using the sophisticated algorithms that power its search engine. In the same vein, Schmidt was also put to task over the rise in cases of plagiarism and copyright theft that are facilitated by Google’s powerful search engine. Schmidt began by stating that intellectual property must be respected by all Google users and that all users must always properly attribute all their sources, especially those in the academic field.
Another interesting question was about Google’s ambitious plan to digitise the world’s books under the Google Library Project and the potential for copyright infringement. Schmidt explained that Google only scans and digitises books that have already fallen out of copyright and are in the public domain. However, if the book is still covered under copyright, Google approaches the concerned publisher to offer the book for sale online.
All in all, CIPIT was honoured to co-host this important event that touched on important issues both relating to IP law as well as information technology law. We look forward to working closely with Google through its national and regional offices to educate and empower our country on the importance and value of it’s peoples’ innovative and creative ideas.
Blame ought to be directed to African startups for patenting things that can easily be discovered by competitors and failing to keep them as trade secrets. – Cisco Senior Vice President, Howard Charney.
Recently iHub Research released an insightful report titled “Intellectual Property in Technological Innovations: Perceptions from Tech Start-ups in Kenyan ICT Hubs”, which is available online here.
The 45-page report published in late November 2012 was the result of an exploratory research with 15 tech startups through in-depth interviews. Here are some of the findings:
1. Only 7% of respondents understand the processes of IP protection and where to go for advice/help and other IP-related services.
2. Over 60% of respondents believe that IP-related information and/or services are difficult to understand, expensive, tedious and in most cases not readily available.
3. Out of the 87% of respondents who claimed to know where to go to seek IP services, 77% of them named KIPI as their first port of call, followed by KECOBO and CIPIT both at 8%.
4. None of the respondents had taken any step to file a patent for their ICT-based innovations despite 87% of them having their products readily available in the Kenyan market.
5. Over 67% of the respondents have not seriously considered copyright protection for their tech innovations with the majority saying “they have not really thought about the whole process and were working on growing their brand first”
6. Over 93% of the respondents had not considered trade secrets protection for their tech innovations largely because they did not understand the process.
7. Over 67% of the respondents have not registered their tech products’ names and logos as trademarks largely due to what the report describes as ‘small company syndrome’, which is defined as the perception that the trademark system is a preserve of the ‘big companies’ that have huge financial backing and can afford to protect their IP way beyond their local jurisdiction. There was also the perception that ‘trademarking’ was ‘not a vital and necessary step in their business structure.’
8. 87% of the respondents had not conducted any searches and/or assessed the intellectual property rights of their competitors, largely because they found the process expensive and saw no need to conduct it as they felt that they had no competition.
The Report goes on to make several recommendations directed at the Government, ICT Hubs and Private IP experts and entities:
1. The Government should play a more active role in enforcement of IP laws, which respondents in the Study percieved as a ‘toothless’.
2. The Government should encourage tech start-ups to use the IP system by providing incentives such as tax holidays and subsidies.
3. The Government should increase their human capacity to address issue of awareness creation
4. The Government should put in place processes and systems that are transparent, up-to-date and readily accessible to the public.
5. ICT hubs ought to consider having customer services that all innovators to access information and interact with IP experts in real-time.
6. ICT hubs ought to facilitate practical IP events and workshops where IP experts and tech innovators can meet and share knowledge.
7. ICT hubs ought to publish more on IP in IT subject matter, including case studies, success stories, etc.
8. ICT hubs ought to engage with tech startups on the benefits, opportunities and hidden costs involved in using the IP system
9. ICT hubs ought to promote a culture of IP rights through collaborations particularly with Government
10. Private IP experts and entities are encouraged to take time to understand the background of tech startups
11. Private IP experts and entities are encouraged to make their charges IP services affordable
12. Private IP experts and entities are encouraged to spread their skills and expertise with other professionals so to increase the numbers of personnel that are versed in IP and IP in ICT.
The report by iHub Research underscores the ever-present need to demystify intellectual property in Kenya.
IP knowledge and expertise must move from being the preserve of a handful of lawyers and spread to other professionals such as inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs who are actively involved in IP-intensive sectors of the economy.
Startups in particular must be sensitised on the different subject matter of IP protection and the attendant formal and substantive requirements. Startups also require direct access to IP practitioners who will be able to enlighten, advise, guide and assist startups in all matters relating to IP. More specifically, it is clear from the report that startups want practical advice in IP and licensing matters as opposed to merely general views and recital of IP laws. This type of specialised IP assistance requires IP experts to invest time in understanding individual startups and the nature of their business and the type of technological innovations involved.