28 April, 2008

Is Kenya becoming a “Barbary Coast” for book pirates?

While the world marks intellectual property day tomorrow, 26th April, authors and book publishers in Kenya may not be in the mood to celebrate. High on the heels of a report (reported here and here) that 80% of local and international brands are counterfeited in Kenya and that 97% of local music is pirated; a report in the Daily Nation (print edition) indicates that authors and publishers in Kenya have “little to write home about” due to rampant piracy of books.

It is reported that many authors have been forced to engage in extra jobs to make ends meet. According to the Kenya Publishers Association estimates, the industry loses about Ksh. 6 billion annually through piracy and copyright infringement, with universities being the worst offenders in photocopying books.

However it does seem that a ray of hope is on the horizon. While the German and French forces are watching the neighbouring Somali coast for the sea pirates, the Kenya Copyright Board has teamed up with the police force to crackdown on copyright offenders and the effort seems to be bearing fruit.

The team conducted a raid last month and arrested people found printing books illegally. Tellingly the books were The River Between by the renowned Kenyan author Prof Ngugi wa Thiongo and An Enemy Of The People by Henrik Ibsen, both being set books in the secondary school curriculum.


While the copyright Act is relatively modern having been enacted in 2001, enforcement has been a major problem and only time will tell whether the combined force of the Copyright Board and the police will this time round manage to put up a permanent river between the two arch enemies.

More on Coast of Barbary here

18 April, 2008

Water hyacinth conference, patent and one stone to kill two birds

A Daily Nation report has it that the first international water hyacinth commercialisation conference will be held in Nairobi in August, organised by Hyaquip Inc of Canada and its Kenyan affiliate bearing the same name.

The report further indicates that the company has engineered equipment for processing the water hyacinth for use as fertilizer. Simon Mwaura who heads the Kenyan Office is reported to have patented a hyacinth extraction process in Canada, US and Kenya.

A search through the WIPO PCT database reveals that Mwaura is indeed the applicant and inventor of international patent number PCT/IB2004/000352 which designates a host of countries including US and Canada. The application was filed in 2004 and is titled “method of converting aquatic plants especially hyacinth into useful products”.

A search through the USPTO database could not establish the status of the application, while the Canadian database reveals that the international application entered the national phase in Canada on 21st July 2006 as application number CA 2554227.

It will be recalled that despite numerous attempts to eradicate water hyacinth by means of mechanical harvesters, it is still a big threat to Lake Victoria – the second largest fresh water lake in the world, shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

According to Mwaura, there are firms willing to invest a tidy sum of money in a project to export the fertilizer to the Middle East. If this venture of making fertilizer out of the weed is successful, perhaps we may have at hand the proverbial stone to kill two birds at once – removal of the notorious weed from the fish ways of Lake Victoria as well as an answer to the scarcity and high cost of fertilizer currently affecting farming activity in the country.

09 April, 2008

More on KIKOY

David Mugonyi, writing from London for the Sunday Nation (print edition), reports that the Kenya government is to apply for registration of the word KIKOY as a trademark. This comes after attempts by a UK company to register the word failed.

Curiously the report indicates that the registration will be done through WTO. How this will be done is rather difficult to understand. For one, WTO does not register Trade marks, and more importantly KIKOY is a descriptive word, and probably the reason why the UK Company failed to defend its case for registration in UK. Against this background, it is difficult to understand how the government which in the first place opposed the registration of the mark on the basis that the word KIKOY connotes nothing else but the name of a Kenyan traditional fabric will be able to argue that it can now serve as a trademark.

04 April, 2008

Counterfeit Horror

The blog Class 46 reports of a counterfeit case in Italy in which the accused persons were sentenced to varying terms in prison for counterfeiting Johnson $ Johnson Baby shampoo.

The horrifying part is that the counterfeit shampoo was found to cause allergy, irritation and even worse that it could seriously affect the cornea. It is rather distressing to note that the counterfeits were baby products, with such dire consequences and the people engaging in the practice were unremorseful even when caught in the act.

The fact that the accused person were recorded laughing that the fake product was so poor in quality that it stunk like pigsty, serves to remind all of us of the danger posed by very cheap products being sold every day on our streets. It reminds me of those glaze eyed fellows who accost you in the streets of Nairobi with what they call “promotional sale” in which they offer to give you two or three products free if you buy one. And what of medicine imported into Kenya from all over the world in the name of parallel importation? As the adage goes, cheap may not after all be that cheap.

For anti counterfeiting raid in Tanzania see previous post here

03 April, 2008

Kikoy battle continues

The Daily Nation reports that the attempt by a British Company to register the word KIKOY as trade mark in UK has failed.

This seems to mark the end of the affair which began in 2006 when Kikoy Company UK Limited applied to register the trade work. See an earlier post here.

From the Nation report it does appear that Kikoy Company failed to file a counter statement by the deadline of 7th March 2008, meaning the application for registration was deemed to have been withdrawn.

What is the implication of this outcome?

In my opinion it makes no difference whether KIKOY was registered as a trade mark or not and indeed there are other KIKOYs registered in UK (as pictured above). These registrations have not prevented other people from selling their kikoys in UK as the writer suggests.

To me the writer seems to have got it wrong on a number of issues. First he writes that the Government has not taken steps to protect the fabric. Is there justification for protection? The very essence of objecting to registration in UK is that KIKOY is a description word that should not be monopolized by any particular person, not even in Kenya.

Secondly, he reports that had the Kikoy Company managed to register the trade mark, it would have obtained a virtual monopoly over the use of the word and they would have stopped any other person from selling Kikoys in the UK and elsewhere.

I beg to differ with this observation, for the fact that you cannot have any trade mark rights over a descriptive word. In the first place, it would have been impossible for the Kikoy Company to enforce the trade mark. I believe there are many cases in UK that have resolved that for one to infringe a trade mark, the infringing mark must be used as trademark.

The question is whether any other person selling kikoys in UK would be using the word KIKOY as a trade mark. Kikoy is basically the name of the product and any other person selling the products in UK or Europe could actually argue that their use of the word KIKOY was not in trade mark sense, rather they were trading in goods called KIKOY. For example, assuming some one managed to register the word BREAD as a trade mark in Kenya with respect to bread, the registration would not stop other people from selling their bread in Kenya. To me the registration would be meaningless and the owner would be actually paying rent to the Trade Office registry for worthless protection.

About kikoy here and here.