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Major intellectual property crimes hurting inventors

By Kyle McCarter | February 23rd 2020

President Abraham Lincoln famously said that the US patent system adds “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” Intellectual property (IP) rights assure inventors, industrial designers, and creative artists that their ideas will be protected. They can receive payment for the use of their creations and continue to invest in future innovations. Because of the strong IP rights control in the United States, IP-intensive industries account for nearly one-third of all employment and approximately 40 per cent of the US GDP. That’s an estimated $6.6 trillion.

In Kenya, the benefits of strong IP systems are enormous. According to the US Chamber International IP index, economies with robust IP protection are 26 per cent more competitive globally, 39 per cent more likely to attract foreign investment, and 55 per cent more likely to adapt sophisticated technology. Conversely, intellectual property crimes hurt us all. For instance, counterfeits compete with legitimate manufacturing, having a global impact in lost jobs, reduced return on investment, and often, reduced tax revenue. The US economy annually suffers an estimated $180 billion from theft of trade secrets; $18 billion from pirated US software; and $29 billion in displaced sales due to counterfeit and pirated goods.

Kenyan media recently published stories on the devastating impact fake goods also have on the economy, safety, and health. Counterfeits damage consumer confidence and waste our hard-earned money through inferior products branded – and priced – as coming from leading firms.

This is why it’s so important that an environment of respect and protection for intellectual property flourish here and why it makes sense that Kenya’s Constitution, just like ours, demands strong intellectual property protection. These protections boost innovation and secure Kenya’s national heritage from misuse. These protections incentivize inventors and creators to make their innovation available to others and share knowledge that enables others to come up with novel and advanced solutions.

The US Embassy has been a long-time partner with Kenya in the fight to defend intellectual property rights. We supported the creation of Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA). Our support to the Kenya Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry helped the two-year “Fagia Bandia” campaign first raise the public’s awareness of the dangers of counterfeit medicines. In partnership with ACA, Kenya Copyright Board, Kenya Industrial Property Institute, and the Strathmore University Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law, the US Embassy has facilitated panels, discussions, and events with industry experts on how Kenyan musicians, movie makers, and artists can protect and be paid for their work.

Fake products not only have negative economic impacts but can have health and safety consequences as well. Approximately 120,000 children under the age of five die each year in sub-Saharan Africa from taking fake antimalarial drugs, according to an estimate from the Brazzaville Foundation. In some areas, 60 per cent of drugs sold are thought to be counterfeit. We know that technological progress drives economic growth and that intellectual property rights provide incentives for investment in research and development and ensure that creative industries like music and film can develop and thrive. We also know that when patents and trade secrets are stolen, when counterfeit goods are produced and traded openly, when trademarks are infringed upon, competition is stymied, revenues diminish, and ultimately governments, businesses, creative artists, and consumers lose.

In March, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a specialised UN agency headquartered in Geneva, will hold elections for its next Director General. Given the economic significance of IP protections, and the important coordination role WIPO plays, strong WIPO leadership matters – to Kenya, the US, and the world. The WIPO leader must come from a country with a record of supporting IP protection and enforcement.

It matters to businesses of all sizes. It matters to inventors, creators, artists, and designers. It matters to consumers who rely on protections that ensure product safety. It matters to strong market economies that drive innovation. And it matters to the United States and to Kenya.

- The writer is US Ambassador to Kenya

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