Intellectual Property – How the youth are being swindled

“Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st Century. Disregard for IP is theft of equal proportion to getting one off their ancestral land.”

Intellectual Property (IP) as defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Globally these are protected by law and infringement or abuse of the same is considered an offence in a court of law. Intellectual Property (IP) rights are legal rights that provide creators protection for their original works, inventions, or the appearance of products, artistic works and scientific developments. These rights include patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. In accordance with industrial & corporate best practices, it is recommended that individuals file for any of these rights in the development of their ideas, concepts or products as a safeguard from theft by others in the process of development. Unfortunately, in resource constrained settings most owners of intellectual property are either ignorant about these provisions, lack the financial muscle to file an application, are naive or are unaware of the potential value of their creation. This is the case for most young people in Kenya and by extension Africa based on observations and documented evidences that I’ve come across over time.

Over time on this page, I’ve consistently argued for and in support of innovation and the power of businesses to drive meaningful change in communities. Key being the need to have an innovative ecosystem that would spur creativity and innovation, support development of innovative ideas, concepts and products, facilitate commercialization of these solutions and ultimately sustain growth into sustainable corporations serving societal needs. I still believe that this is possible and commit to pursue this aspiration. However, I’ve come to see the short end of the stick in certain spaces that pose as supporters or lifeline for some of the disenfranchised entities. Over the last 10 years, we’ve had substantial growth of start-up incubators in Africa especially Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda. While these are poised to inject life into the lackluster innovation ecosystem in Africa, some have taken advantage of local innovators for the benefit of the monied financiers bankrolling these innovations. Some even have foreign directors key in marketing these solutions and reaping out of them. To some extent these give the innovators semblance of value for their ingenuity and hard work. It however is an infringement on the IP rights if any.

Subsequently, I’ve always vouched for the power of universities to serve as the catalytic centers for innovation, industrialization and development. I argued for this when I envisioned a Stanford like university in Africa. Today my belief was further reinforced when I conversed with a junior colleague and friend pursuing her undergraduate studies in one of the Kenyan universities of a project she designed with peers towards the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) 2021. With such forward-looking and brilliant minds, we need to strengthen our core respect for and appreciation of IP. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in this country. In the process of working on ways to execute this solution, she pitched to a couple of organizations including government agencies just to be invited to a meeting where a Ministry Official was presenting this idea for partners to finance and her team relegated to mobilizers for the very solution they designed. Such happenings dissuade diligence, proactiveness and creativity among the youth. It’s more painful when the very government expected to uphold values & create an enabling environment for its’ citizens to thrive take advantage of the very citizens especially the marginalized lot.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of an article I wrote in 2021 where an established company partnered with us for a project which served as a lifeline to our work but at the same time augmented it’s operations, Big Bank take Small Bank. The same concept has been applied by the Virgin Group for it’s Virgin Unite and Virgin Start Up ecosystem which I follow with commitment. Such models are worth emulating as they underscore the potential of young people, the marginalized and the disenfranchised by giving them a chance to manifest what they are capable of. On the flipside, when established organizations take advantage of start ups and exploit them it not only kills them but also shrivels development in the entire ecosystem. As a society we need to do better to respect and protect intellectual property.

On the positive side, as a young person who have lost out on certain instances to the same ruthless crooks I use this as proof of concept or rather validation of my ability to think creatively, design solutions and deliver impact. One day it will pay off, just not today. When you lose out, take up the pieces and keep working on it. You may in the end figure out better dynamics that will even be more impactful than the initial prototype. They don’t have your insights and perspective around the solution, it’s execution and roll-out. You still have a chance.

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