The Rise of Constitutional Intellectual Property in Kenya

In a recent judgment in the case of Patricia Asero Ochieng, Maurine Atieno and Joseph Munyi vs Republic H.C.C.C. Petition No. 409 of 2009 handed down by Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi (also known as “Kenyan Jurist” in blogging circles), the Constitutional Division of the High Court held that one of Kenya’s intellectual property laws namely the Anti Counterfeit Act was unconstitutional.

The full text of the judgment is available here.

At paragraph 87 of the judgment, the court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of this IP act reads as follows:

Sections 2, 32 and 34 of the Anti Counterfeit Act threaten to violate the right to life of the petitioners as protected by Article 26 (1), the right to human dignity guaranteed under Article 28 and the right to the highest attainable standard of health guaranteed under Article 43 (1) and the court hereby grants the declarations sought by as follows:

(a) The fundamental right to life, human dignity and health as protected and envisaged by Articles 26(1), 28 and 43(1) of the Constitution encompasses access to affordable and essential drugs and medicines including generic drugs and medicines.

(b) In so far as the Anti Counterfeit Act, 2008 severely limits or threatens to limit access to affordable and essential drugs and medicines including generic medicines for HIV and AIDS, it infringes on the petitioners’ right to life, human dignity and health guaranteed under Articles 26(1), 28 and 43(1) of the Constitution.

(c) Enforcement of the Anti Counterfeit Act, 2008 in so far as it affects access to affordable and essential drugs and medication particularly generic drugs is a breach of the petitioners’ right to life, human dignity and health guaranteed under the Constitution.

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Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Act: Intellectual Property and Constitutionalism Collide

In 2009, three HIV/AIDS patients petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare the Anti-Counterfeit Act illegal because it could deny them access to generic medicines. The move sought to have the 2008 Anti-Counterfeiting Act made unconstitutional on the grounds that it could rob them of their right to life.

The Constitutional Court is due to deliver a verdict on March 9, 2012. As one of the petitioners in this case explains:

“The court will rule on whether, the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Act of 2008 which was enacted by the national parliament infringes on the right to access more affordable medicines especially for treatment of HIV and other public health challenges. Depending on the decision, it is widely expected that this case , the first legal challenge in Africa against a new push for anti-counterfeit legislation, could have significant implications on other countries preparing similar laws.”

Public health advocates have consistently argued that the Anti-Counterfeit Act’s definition of what constitutes a counterfeit product is too vague, and could be used to block the import and local manufacture of generic drugs. The Act is so broad that it could, for example, allow a pharmaceutical company to charge legitimately produced generics as counterfeits in Kenya even if its patent is not registered there, which is argued to be “against the whole principle of territorial application of IP rights”.

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