By Sharon Atieno
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) is a force to reckon with when it comes to intellectual property (IP), however, the low level of IP commercialization is a cause for concern.
Currently the university has a portfolio of 83 IP assets including 57 grants and 26 pending applications. Of these, there are 26 patents, 21 utility models, 32 trademarks, 1 industrial design and 3 registered copyright.
A comparative study of JKUAT and other Kenyan public universities for patents and utility models applications for grants, since 1993 to 2018, places JKUAT in the lead with 45 patents and 37 utility models.
It is against this background that JKUAT was among the five chosen out of the 45 institutions which expressed interest in being selected as pilots for the implementation of Guidelines on Elaboration of Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy commissioned by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) in partnership with Japan Patent Office.
In her opening remarks at the launch of the piloting of the Guidelines in JKUAT, Mrs. Loretta Asiedu, Senior Counsellor, WIPO commended JKUAT for putting in place important measures in the area of IP rights management in the body of the Directorate of Intellectual Property and University and Industry Liaison (DIPUIL).
Since the formation of DIPUIL in 2014, there has been increase in JKUAT’s IP assets from 28 to 83 in 2018. Moreover, there has also been a rise in the number of students and staff trained in IP totaling to 1397, since 2015. This has helped to create some level of awareness in the university.
Though acknowledging the university’s achievements in IP, JKUAT’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi in her keynote address, decried the low level of commercialization of IP in the university.
She noted that this was brought about by low IP awareness; lack of appropriate infrastructure such as an incubation facility; lack of well skilled manpower needed for commercialization process such as IP valuers, technology licensing officers and marketers; lack of well-defined commercialization pathways; and weak links/liaison with industry.
“It is my hope that this project will help us overcome these challenges and that JKUAT will be able to commercialize all its IP assets for the benefit of the originators, Institution, and the country at large,” said Prof. Ngumi.
Similarly, Prof. Tom Ogada, WIPO’s consultant in the project at the university noted that the rate of conversion of research outputs to IP assets is still very low despite the capacity and institutional framework put in place.
“Intellectual property rights are useless to a university, to a creator, to an inventor until it is commercialized, because only through commercialization can you really impact into the economic development of this country,” he said.
Leading a team of experts in the project coordination, he noted that out of the 54 granted IP rights, only four trademarks are commercialized. While none of the patent and utility model grants have been commercialized, also, none of the pending grants have been commercialized as well as the plant breeders’ rights.
He emphasized that commercialization must be given priority, noting that commercialization is allowed before or after putting up an application.
However, he said that most industries will be reluctant to take up products or services which are not protected through IP.
The team also found that, there was low level of IP awareness in JKUAT’s community at only 15 percent with 85 percent not aware.
Of the 15 percent who are aware of IP, 65 percent are aware of patents, utility models, trademarks and copyrights while less than 35 percent are aware of plant breeders’ rights, traditional knowledge and geographical interpretation.
Moreover, 70 percent of those who are aware about IP are not aware what utility models protects and 49 percent do not consider it important for research, yet, this is a very important intellectual property right for a technology-oriented university like JKUAT.
Also, 65 percent do not know what plant breeders’ rights protect; yet, this is a very important IP for agricultural faculties given that there is a high demand for new plant varieties within and without Kenya.
Looking at the potential IP that the university has lost by not screening research thesis, dissertations and publications, the team identified 103 technologies out of more than a 1000 reviewed.
Prof. Ogada also noted the need to protect income generating units (IGU) in the university among them food technology centre, institute of biotechnology, JKUATES and the industrial and technology park.
“The IGUs need to embrace IP, they need to have IP policy to support and capacity built to have skills to identify potential IP assets for purpose of protection and commercialization,” he said.