When I was growing up, children were mostly notorious for being notorious. Our past times were mostly spent playing out-door games and climbing avocado trees in our neigbours’ yards. It was almost unfathomable that a simple child could think outside the box and offer solutions to adults. Fast forward twenty-something years later…
Today, children have become more and more intelligent. They have become more aware and curious to know what goes on around them and want to be a part of their environment. As a result, the numbers of children innovators and levels of creativity have risen immensely.
Have you heard of Kelvin Doe? Kelvin Doe is a self taught engineer from Sierra Leone. At only 13 years old, he invented a solution for his neighbourhood which suffered from frequent power outages. Remarkably, Kelvin Doe used only items thrown into the garbage to create batteries and from there, a generator, to help provide electricity for his home and neighbours.
Using his generator, Kelvin Doe started his own radio station for the neighbourhood. There, he broadcasts under the name “DJ Focus”, a moniker he acquired from his belief, “if you focus you can do invention perfectly”. In 2012, he was a finalist in the GMin’s Innovate Salone Idea Competition and, at 16 years old, he was the youngest person to ever receive an invitation to the “Visiting Practitioner’s Program” at MIT.
Let’s bring this situation closer to home. Imagine Kelvin was your son and he had come up with the power solution/ innovation during or as a part of his school course work. How do you think his school would handle it? How do you think the school should handle it? These two questions will definitely have two different answers in the absence of an Intellectual Property Policy. An IP policy is a document that addresses what happens when a student creates a wonderful invention or innovation within the school compound and confines of learning. It should tackle the issue of ownership and the extent of control of both parties; the learning institution and the student through the parent/ guardian in the case of a minor. The document should also tackle the issue of commercialization and the envisioned level of engagement and partnership.
Unfortunately, not all parents are aware of this foreign animal we call intellectual property. On that basis it makes it hard for them to negotiate and ask the pertinent questions when it comes to their children’s creations in the learning environment. I know it may sound irrelevant may be because your child is still in primary level. But Kevin’s case should demonstrate otherwise. It is never too early to educate our children about intellectual property rights and it is never too late for parents to learn. It is also important for parents to know what IP is so that when the need arises, they are aware of what to do as their child’s legal guardian.
An IP policy may seem too advanced for the primary and secondary learning institutions, but it is not. I think parents need to start pushing for schools to have this document in place and influence how the document should handle the IP generated by the students/ children.
I think it goes without saying that where such a document is in place, there is less time wasted in disputes addressing the how and the sharing of profits from commercialization of the student’s IP. Wouldn’t you like it if your child learned how to be self-sufficient at an early age? Wouldn’t you like your child to be a trail-blazer?
Parents and teachers alike need to understand the nature of IP. What is copyright, trademark, utility models, patents among other forms of intellectual property? In summary, intellectual property law is the branch of law that helps convert ideas into intellectual property assets which can thereafter be commercialized at the will or whim of the creator.
This is one document that needs to be in place for you as a parent to know what to do if your child’s painting is featured in a book, or if their poem is feature in an anthology, if they create a software and the school assumes ownership in totality, if their thesis or dissertation is passed off and exploited by their teacher or lecturer. What to do when their science project wins an award at the Kenya Science Congress and a potential investor wants to invest or buy the invention.
As much as we always wait for directives and initiatives from the Government and their relevant ministries, we need to be proactive as parents. When the arts were scraped off the 8-4-4 I do not remember any opposition being raised. But then again, I was young and I stand corrected. In my honest view, parents need to take the next step and understand what IP is and initiate the process of drafting this crucial document in their children’s schools.
If you do not do it, then who will? Think about it…
Image:Coutesy of WIPO