Monday, 24 December 2012

A review of African official IP websites: no. 24: Republic of Guinea-Bissau


The festive season is already upon us but Afro-IP never stops beinging you intellectual property (IP) news and update across the continent. First, as you expected, we found Guinea-Bissau as we left it last year. Now moving on to other news.

Mobile, software-related inventions and IP in Kenya: Here we go again!

This Leo learns of the dispute between the Kenyan microfinance provider, Faulu Kenya and Safaricom in respect of the mobile money service, M-Shwari. According to that report, Faulu commenced legal action alleging that Safaricom copied the idea behind its Kopa Chapaa service on the grounds that it was disclosed in a previous business meeting between the two companies. The first installment of the suit came before Justice Jonathan Havelock, sitting in the High Court, who apparently rejected Faulu's application having found that it had no IPRs in the first instance to bring such an action. Had Faulu succeeded in its application, over 640,000 customers would have been affected. (Afro Leo wonders how many mobile phone users are there in Kenya since the 'counterfeit phone shutdown')

This is just the sort of news which resurrects the debate on whether IPRs stifle innovation or go against the public interest. Often we hear of a large IPRs owner trampling on an innovative SME; this time around, it is the lesser-known player utilising the IP system to defend itself against the well-known big player. (Although he once thought social enterprises would dislike anything which could potentially have a negative effect on the poor e.g. IP, as some would argue, Afro Leo is not amazed that Faulu Kenya - a social enterprise in his eyes - values IP)


It also reminds me of this piece by Dr Isaac Rutenberg arguing against the grant of patent protection for computer software in a developing country like Kenya. Looking at the controversies or 'eagerness to grant' in the USA, Amazon's 'one-click' payment patent, and the 'mess' in Europe in this area, this Leo agrees with Dr Rutenberg. Nonetheless, the curiosity is whether the less stringent utility model could offer protection to mobile money services such as M-Shwari and Kopa Chapaa in Kenya or any other African country.

Afro-IP team wishes all our readers a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Guinea-Bissau: A beneficiary of WIPO's technical assistance programme, see here
Who is Faulu Kenya? see here
Business methods and patents practice in the USA, see here

4 comments:

IPKenya said...

Kingsley,

Thanks for highlighting the on-going litigation between Faulu Kenya and Safaricom. We believe this case, if it proceeds to its full conclusion, will go a long way in demystifying IPRs and IP protection in Kenya particularly in the so-called David vs. Goliath scenarios.

I have also blogged my thoughts on the same issue here:

http://cipitlawstrath.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/the-ghost-of-m-pesa-faulu-kenya-cries-intellectual-property-theft-over-safaricoms-m-shwari/

Happy holidays!

Njuguna said...

It is highly unlikely that the dispute will give rise to a major IP decision in Kenya, considering that there does not seem to be any IPR involved and even the two parties do not seem to understand what they are fighting over. Coping somebody's idea? Sounds to me like a case of breach of confidence, which would be a hard nut to crack given the facts.

Kingsley said...

Thank you, Victor and Njuguna, for your comments. Indeed, a very interesting development in mobile money services in Kenya.

"...even the two parties do not seem to understand what they are fighting over" sounds more like it :-)

IPKenya said...

Kingsley, David,

While we're on the subject, I'd love to get your thoughts on this:

http://ipkenya.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/a-comparative-perspective-why-business-method-patents-cannot-be-too-quickly-dismissed/