Women in IP


In 1867, Madam C.J Walker became the first Female self-made millionaire in the United States. She did so by turning her own problem of hair loss into a business opportunity where she tested, developed and sold Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. In just under 8 years following the opening of her business, she was a millionaire. Innovative even for her times.

Is the modern girl innovative?

“A woman is like a tea bag. You can never know the strength of that teabag until you put it in boiling water and you can see whether you are dealing with strong tea.” Mwangwashi Phiyega (First woman South African police Chief). No doubt, more women are being empowered and steered towards innovation. See, IP is an already niche area so the lipstick numbers are fewer here than in most professions.

In 2013, MIP published the Top 250 Women in IP within the United States. Some places do not even have a Top 2, so this list does things. In publishing, it did something which should become a regular occurrence for other locations globally, a recognition of women thriving within intellectual property. Not only will highlighting the women who pioneer in the protection of IP rights inspire others to follow suit, it also expands the innovative platform by allowing women to give a lot more in terms of creativity. It is true that, most educational institutions churn out graduates who upon graduation are on the auto-job seeking and not job creation settings. Naturally, the female is a problem solver and a solution giver, thus the innovation option should come easily with adequate mentoring.

There still remains the challenge in getting the female youth interested in intellectual property. Ideas are rife and in this digital age it is easier to expand knowledge and share experiences within the field, something which empowerment organisations on the internet have began to catch up on.

Here is paying homage to a few women inventors courtesy of women-inventors.com. Mary Anderson (windshield wipers 1903); Marion Donovan (Disposable Diapers 1940’s); Dr. Grace Murray Hopper (COBOL computer language 1959-61); Hedy Lamarr (Wireless communications 1941); Rachel Zimmerman (Blissymbol Printer whilst 12yrs old in 1980’s)…

To all female IP lawyers, practitioners, innovators and teachers, let your efforts shine.


Lately, I have been mispacing, actually loosing things at an institution which insists I have to leave my bag in a holding area and take what I need separately. Within a day or hours of remembering the forgotten artefacts, I would retrace them only to find that someone had already given them a compulsory home. This despite there being a lost and found office and posters of my lost goods all over the place. This even after offering rewards upon return. The thieves just never seem to have a change of heart.

The reality is that most people generally like something for nothing (and this has nothing to do with Creative Commons)! Just as much with tangible property as it is with intangible property. The same kind of pain one would feel when they loose their property is the same kind of pain a creative would feel when their intellectual property rights are infringed.

In this region, this is evident of how we think on new music and we automatically think of download links.

We think of Movies and we automatically think of the cheap pirated 50bob ($0.58) dvds peddled in Town.

We want to own what comes our way either freely or at the least cost.

Herein lies the problem of trying to protect intellectual property not only in Africa but globally. A generation that is raised downloading and remixing freely does not understand the concept of walking into a shop and buying a $12 album or movie.

In England a couple of years back I remember a shop that allowed walk in mp3 down loads of individual tracks for £1-2 . This would be one way of mitigating loss to the creatives if encouraged by  certain incentives to that end user.

We need out of the box solutions and can do this by fully engaging the youth on ways of protecting intellectual property coupled with education that such theft is infringement of others sweat of the brow.

Second hand Society: Innovative plug?

Secondhand society

There streets in most developing countries are flooded with second hand cars. They come in all makes and sizes at a price more expensive than the last owner would care to pay for. They have contributed to the already certified traffic menace on the road and increase by the day.

Why is there very little innovation in Kenya and probably East Africa with regards to the motor manufacturing and assembly industry? For Intellectual Property to flourish, there needs to be a motivation for innovation.

There is a car bazaar on any vacant space along a key road and many more second hand imports available online. It is no wonder that the seeds of innovators withered a long time ago with the Nyayo Pioneer car. The Nyayo Pioneer were the first ever Kenyan made cars in 1986 by University of Nairobi students at the behest of the then president. They were sourced from local raw materials and were pretty okay by the then standards. It failed for lack of funds.

A society that depends too heavily on imports hinders innovation. Will there ever be another opportunity to nourish our fledged car industry? By the look of the imported steel outside my window, the answer: a blatant nay!Nyayo pioneer

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellect: human mind

Intellectual Property is an area of law which protects the intangible property resultant from the creativity of the human mind.

Why should this be of interest you ask? Well, it will guide you not to break the shambles out of someone else’s creative expression and prevent others from the equivalence of robbery with violence on your art.

The protected areas include:


An exclusive right given to an author of an original work. Copyright protects the expression of an idea and not the idea itself. Hence, you and your friend have an idea for an invisible ring which glows in the dark! You will both likely express this differently i.e. colour, material, drawings e.t.c. Thus the way you express it is what copyright protects and limits anyone else from copying your work. The public will also need your express permission before copying, sharing/distributing publicly, performing/ displaying publicly or using your work online.

It covers literary work (your romance novel), dramatic work (the script you used in your high school play), artistic work (the pot you messed up in pottery class), musical work (the form sheet that looks like Greek algorithm), sound recording( the illegal copy you downloaded online), Cinematographic films & TV broadcasts (the blockbuster movie you shouldn’t have bought for 50 bob ). Copyright is automatic on completion of the work by the author so don’t try and protect your half-baked sculpture! Most importantly you can only protect independently created works which have attained the minimal degree of creativity threshold. If these two conditions are not met, forget about copyright until the near future. Copyright lasts 50 years from the creation of the work or 50 yrs from the death of the author for literal, musical and artistic works.


A trademark is a word, logo, symbol which identifies the origin of a product and distinguishes it from your competitors.  A service mark does the same but from a service industry perspective. So if your logo/brand is ‘Mamanani’ and ‘MamaNyani’ down the road trades in the same class of business, that be an infringement! You need to register your trademark before you can battle it with MamaNyani… You can register and renew every 10 years. However if your trademark is offensive, illegal or deceptive, it ain’t happening!



These protect the functional elements of works i.e. the features and processes that make an invention work. The invention must new, have an inventive step and should be industrially applicable. Sure there will be prior art that may be similar to yours, but if you can show that you improved the prior art then you are on your way. It is a real bugger to get Patent protection, it can take up to 2 years from the time you file it and can be quite costly. But the sweet juice of sweet success means that you can lock anyone in the region you registered it from making anything like it. Yes, you do have to register it in the countries you want to claim exclusivity. Your patent is you bragging right to your genius mind and protection lasts for up to 20 years.

Registered Designs:

Protection of the right to the visual appearance of a product in the country of registry. i.e colours, shapes, textures, contours, lines etc. In short the look and feel of the creation. The design must be new and have an individual character. So if you develop a board game, the way it is packaged, the dice pieces, the reading material etc will be subject to the design right. They can be protected for up to 25 years.

Other Protection:

Trade secrets: for keeping certain elements of an invention secret as long as it is not in the public domain.

Plant Breeders Rights: for the protection of new varieties of plant or seed.

Database Right:  for the protection of the investment into the arrangement of a database.

Publication Right: to publish the work for the first time where the copyright has expired.