The term knowledge-based economy, continues to dominate keynote addresses by government, industry and academic officials in Kenya. The underlying idea is that knowledge drives innovation which translates to better economic development. The reality, however, is that African countries are not doing well in terms of translating knowledge into innovations that can spur industrial growth and development.
A key plank in the knowledge value chain is how to hone and protect intellectual property (IP); defined by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as, “creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”
A glance at the Global Innovation Index 2017, an annual measure of innovation competitiveness by WIPO, shows the disparities that exist between the industrialized North and the developing South.
Industrialized nations namely Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK were named the world’s most-innovative countries, in that order. The leading country in Sub-Saharan African, South Africa, is ranked 57th globally; followed by Mauritius at position 64, and Kenya at 80.
The Director of Intellectual Property Management and University-Industry Liaison (DIPUIL), Eng. B. K. Kariuki attributes low momentum towards innovation in Africa to lack of IP awareness and supporting structures both within research institutions and nationally.
DIPUIL that was established in 2015, is a response to the desire by JKUAT to spur innovation by helping researchers identify and protect novelties out of their research and innovation activities.
With support from the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project, Eng. Kariuki undertook benchmarking sessions with Japanese research institutions such as Tokyo Institute of Technology, Kyoto University and Osaka University to learn how the institutions have fostered the culture of innovation over the years. Japan is ranked as the 14th innovative country in the 2017 WIPO global rankings.
The Project has also supported equipping of the Directorate; enabling it to better serve the needs of JKUAT and PAUSTI.
What will it take to make African economies more innovative? According to Eng. Kariuki, there is a need to uphold a culture of quality in research and innovations; backed by functionally strong structures to promote and protect research and innovation spinoffs.
DIPUIL has since establishment facilitated four patents; two of which were granted in June 2017 by Kenya Industrial and Property Institute (KIPI). JKUAT has also filled 18 patent applications with the national IP body.
It is such patents that spawn industries; creating both jobs and wealth in the process, as Dr. Peter Ogoti who was jointly awarded a patent for shoe polish made from the blackjack weed.
“We are checking with partners to pilot mass production of the bio shoe polish in the country,” Dr. Ogoti told Daily Nation’s Lifestyle.
Given its increasing visibility, the Directorate has been a centre of attraction with delegations coming from within and outside Kenya benchmark on how it functions. In July 2017 for instance, a team from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda, visited the Directorate share experiences and learn from JKUAT’ milestones.
Even as nine countries from sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya, made it to the list of 16 innovation achievers in 2017 according to WIPO, such momentum will only be maintained if Africa begins to focus more on quality research and innovation output.
Eng. Kariuki believes DIPUIL is up to the task and will endeavor to effectively implement its mandate in JKUAT/PAUSTI and Kenya at large.