A number of unsuccessful law suits filed by Kenyan innovators to claim ideas derived by other players show that failure to patent the innovative ideas is a big letdown for would-be startups.
Innovators also view taking the legal way as time wasting, costly and a challenge. Lyon however translates the view to procrastination. According to him, procrastination kills startups since although the innovators plan to register and execute their idea, the ideas never take off.
“It would be difficult to take IP infringement through litigation and that would be precious time lost so it’s better to just focus on making the idea a reality. If a startup is focused on protecting their IP, they’re not focused on the real goal” Lyon said.
Horward Charney, Cisco’s Senior Vice President, blamed African startups for patenting things that can easily be discovered by competitors and failing to keep them as trade secrets.
In Kenya, although the copyright act and the industrial property guide established in 2001 are open to any Kenyan with original work, 200 patent cases have been investigated and prosecuted by 2010, showing the seriousness with which the innovators rate the IP law.
In 2010, Hoswell Njuguna claimed that Kenya’s Equity Bank’s M-Kesho, mobile banking, features were copied from his Weka Usaidike service.
Analysts remark it was a mistake he had not patented his innovation as showed by his futile claims. Eric Karioba, Project Manager Equity Bank, however says Weka Usaidike could not be patented since it was not a literary or artistic work.
It was just a write-up, he says, M-Kesho was technologically backed, tested and supported.
Safaricom, has since faced similar allegations regarding its brands.
Early last month, Simon Omondi filed a patent suit against the mobile phone service provider claiming ownership of Maliza Story — a service offered by Safaricom to its subscribers to allow them to get airtime on credit and pay it on the next top up at 10 percent interest. The hearing is set for June.