Having studied Intellectual Property Rights as a key module of my post-grad studies, it was refreshing to know that Rwanda’s Intellectual Property Law is one of the most advanced in the region.
Undoubtedly, we still have a long way to go if we are to maximise opportunities for international competition and economic growth, due to utilization of Intellectual Property Rights.
The Rwandan Intellectual Property (IP) law which was passed in 2009 by the Ministry of Trade and Industry saw the emergence of sensitization workshops from 2009 to date, aimed at informing the general public on the power of fully understanding and exploiting IP rights. I had the privilege of attending one of these workshops, which took place last week at Serena, organized by the RDB for Rwandan women entrepreneurs.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defines IP as “creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.
IP is divided into two categories: Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs.”
No more is this more valued and exploited than in the West, where any form or original creation, ranging from say, a novel to a technological invention, can be bought and sold for unimaginable amounts of money.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) states that the UK exported £150.6 bn of services, with high IP content, in 2010.
In this part of the world, it is implicit that ideas are money, and therefore, must be protected to the core by a series of intricate laws.
It is tragic to witness how this is not a concept fully embraced by most African countries, and as a result, various ideas, ranging from cultural designs to commercial innovations have been hijacked by those more experienced in the murky world of intellectual property.
Take for example the case of the Kenyan ‘Kiondo’; a sisal basket weaved in with various radiant colours which is claimed to have been patented by a Japanese company some three years ago. This was simply a result of Kenyans having failed to commercialise the Kiondo both as a product patent and even as a design.
Put this together with the Kenyan ‘Kikoy’ cloth, which was attempted to be registered a trademark by a UK company, meaning that the word Kikoy would be owned by the UK company, and commercialized as they so wished. This however was rejected, as the work Kikoy is used commonly across a broad spectrum and so cannot be owned per se.
Just recently, renowned designer Louis Vuitton used the Masaai ‘shuka,’ a type of colourful blanket indigenous to the Masaai people, in his 2012 Spring Collection. This designer has now put his stamp on a certain aspect of the Kenyan Masaai cultural heritage, simply as a result of using these designs in his fashion collection.
Compare this with the Scottish kilt tartan design, whereby Reproducing this material without a license is a breach of copyright law. At this moment, Louis Vuitton’s use of the Masaai shuka should be generating huge sums of money for the Kenyan people if they had owned the process of protecting their national treasures, but sadly, this isn’t the case.
I used the example of Kenya because, as a leading regional tourist destination, with a rich cultural heritage, it is sad to see the exploitation of its cultural facets. I hope Rwanda can learn from this, and be sure to create, innovate and protect its intellectual riches.
That said, is the ‘Agaseke’ design patented and/or trademarked exclusively to Rwanda?