Constitutionalisation of Intellectual Property in Africa: Some Experiences from Kenya

KENYA-CONSTITUTION-KIBAKI

This month’s edition of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) publication “WIPO Magazine” contains an article on Egypt and Tunisia’s new constitutions which ‘recognize the importance of the knowledge economy and intellectual property (IP) rights’. This article by one Ahmed Abdel-Latif titled: “Egypt and Tunisia Underscore the Importance of IP” reads in part:

“For the first time, the constitutions of these two countries provide for the protection of IPRs although in different ways. In both constitutions, the wording is succinct: the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that the “State shall protect all types of intellectual property in all fields” (Article 69) and the Tunisian Constitution indicates that “intellectual property is guaranteed” (Article 41).”

In addition, the article notes that ‘both constitutions contain a number of clauses on the protection of culture, health, and heritage which can influence both the interpretation and implementation of the IP rights clauses’.

With regard to the “challenge of implementation” of the IP rights clauses in the two constitutions, the article astutely points out that:-

“(…) ultimately the manner in which these clauses are implemented through national laws and judicial decisions will be critical in ensuring that a balanced approach to IP protection is adopted; one which takes into account the level of development of each country and one which is supportive of their respective public policy objectives.”

At this juncture, it may be instructive for this blogger to share some views on Kenya’s experiences thus far with constitutionalised IP protection since it begun in 2010. The pre-2010 Constitution of Kenya did not capture concerns on innovation and IP. In that Constitution, sections 70 and 75 capturing the Bill of Rights provided substantive property guarantees limited to real property as opposed to technological innovations, cultural innovations and IP. However in 2010, there was a paradigm shift which resulted in the promulgation of a new Constitution. This new social contract expressly protects IP, innovation and technology transfer. For the first time in Kenya’s history, IP norms were constitutionalised. First, Article 260 (c) includes IP in the definition of “property”. Secondly, Article 40 (5) obliges the State to support, promote and protect the intellectual property rights of the people of Kenya. In the same breath, Article 69(1) (c) and (e) mandates the State to protect and enhance intellectual property, traditional or indigenous knowledge of biodiversity and the genetic resources of the communities and protect genetic resources and biological diversity.

Under Article 11(1), the Constitution recognises culture as the foundation of the nation and as the cumulative civilization of the Kenyan people and nation. And mandates the state to promote all forms of national and cultural expression through literature, the arts, traditional celebrations, science, communication, information, mass media, publications, libraries and other cultural heritage; recognise the role of science and indigenous technologies in the development of the nation; and promote the intellectual property rights of the people of Kenya.

Parliament is also mandated to enact a law to ensure that communities receive compensation or royalties for the use of their cultures and cultural heritage. This legislation should also be passed which recognise and protects the ownership of indigenous seeds and plant varieties, their genetic and diverse characteristics and their use by the communities of Kenya.

So far, it appears that the judicial branch of government has risen to the challenge of implementation of the constitutional IP provisions, with due deference to the executive branch aptly represented by the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) and the Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA). Notable court decisions directly related to constitutional IP protection include the Patricia Asero case (previously discussed here, here and here), the Digital Migration case (previously discussed here and here – this matter is currently before the apex court, Supreme Court of Kenya), the Sanitam case of 2012 (previously discussed here).

Away from the courts, KECOBO and KIPI are leading an inter-ministerial taskforce on Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions and Genetic Resources. This taskforce has already finalised work on a draft Bill on the protection of TK and TCE (previously discussed here and here). In the meantime, several state agencies dealing with IP have held consultative forums to develop a National IP Policy (previously discussed here). Still within the Executive, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts has established a multi-stakeholder committee to finalise work on a draft National Music Policy (previously discussed here and here). It is hoped that the forthcoming merger of KIPI, KECOBO and ACA (previously discussed here, here and here) will increase the Executive’s capacity to spearhead the implementation of the various constitutional provisions relating to IP.

All in all, the road from adaptation to full realisation of constitutionally guaranteed IP protection is long, arduous and involves several levels of engagement.

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