Legal Tender and Intellectual Property in Kenya

Parliament in it’s role as the watchdog of the Executive arm of Government has recently focussed its attention on claims that the Kenyan tax payer may have lost an estimated 3 billion shillings through shadowy deals on currency printing involving government officials and British firm De La Rue.

IPKenya was appalled to hear the former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya claim that among the reasons he gave for cancelling the 3-year currency printing contract was that the contract “gave away the patents for the design of the new notes” to De La Rue. (At 0:50 of the video clip above)

Quite frankly this level of ignorance about intellectual property rights coming from a Cabinet Minister on such a sensitive matter of national importance is inexcusable!

For the sake of clarity, the design of Kenya’s bank notes are covered under copyright not patent and the same applies for the coins.

In future, it is clear that the Government of Kenya should be more vigilant when entering into contracts with foreigners especially where intellectual property rights are concerned. Ideally, the Government should come up with the concept and designs of the legal tender itself and enter into contracts only to do with printing where the provisions clearly state that all intellectual property rights remain with the government.

IPKenya also notes that Article 231 (3) of the Constitution has introduced a new requirement that notes and coins issued by the Central Bank of Kenya shall no longer bear the portrait of any individual. Instead the Constitution makes the following suggestion:

“..notes and coins issued by the Central Bank of Kenya may bear images that depict or symbolise Kenya or an aspect of Kenya…”

Therefore the government finds itself in need of fresh design ideas and creative input in coming with Kenya’s new legal tender as per the Constitution. This process will almost certainly be done either through a call for tenders or a country-wide competition whereby members of the public will be invited to submit their ideas and suggestions on the new design of Kenya’s legal tender.

Earlier in the year, IPKenya highlighted the copyright battle over one of Uganda’s bank notes between the Bank of Uganda and a copyright holder claiming rights over a work depicted on the bank note.

So, it remains to be seen how the Kenya government will handle the important issue of ownership of intellectual property rights over the country’s currency.

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