Are Tanzanian lawyers paying any attention to patent practice? Why are they not collaborating with Tanzanian scientists and engineers to develop a robust patent protection system? While our lawyers are enmeshed in land cases, election/chieftaincy petitions and petty politics, the legal minds of other nations are moving forward, in tandem with their inventors, leaving us behind like paralytic consumers of technology.
If I wasn't a Tanzanian, maybe I wouldn't have any interest in the affairs of that country. For example, I don't know what Liberian leaders tell their citizens. As far as I am concerned, whatever Ugandan engineers tell their political leaders does not interest me so much. But I care for Tanzania and read about my beloved country everyday, thanks to the power of technology.
Speaking of technology, I've read so much about the "achievements" of Tanzanian engineers, scientists and technologists that my head spins. We have been hearing such claims or variations thereof since 1961! Who is fooling who?
For those who care to know, the technological development of any nation is directly proportional to her patent practice. Patent law is designed to protect innovative scientific inventions. When you pick up your cell phone, which happens to be the most prolific invention in the hands of Tanzanians today, the parts used to make them are protected by patents from one or more countries. The maker of the cell phone, for example, Nokia, may not own even one part of the units that make up the device but licensed them from the owners of the patents. The owner of the patent, called a patentee, need not be a cell phone maker or in any manufacturing business at all. The patentee to the intermittent windshield wiper was not a car manufacturer. Instead, car manufacturers took non-exclusive licenses from him and paid him loyalties for using his invention. An exclusive license may have antitrust implications; I leave that for another day.
Patent licensing and patent litigation are the most flourishing areas of legal practice today due to the proliferation and advances in science and technology. Companies go into cross-licensing to checkmate unnecessary conflicts and compete only in those areas where they really need to. In 2004, Sony and Samsung entered into an agreement to share patents on basic technology, to speed up product development, and avoid adding to a growing number of cross-border patent disputes. The implication is that your Sony Plasma TV shares same technology as your neighbor's Samsung!
I have been reading the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO) report since 2003. I usually subject it to a search for "Tanzania", a ritual all electronic documents that come to my desk pass through. It would have been like searching for the face of your lover in Kariakoo market, but again, thanks to technology, it took less than 3 seconds. My search for Tanzania saves me unnecessary embarrassment. I need to know where my beloved country stands before discussing such document. To appreciate what the WIPO report said about Tanzania, we need to know what it said about other countries.
The 2009 report shows that worldwide patent application filings have increased an average of 4.7 percent a year since 1995, with the highest growth experienced in North East Asian countries, notably South Korea and China. Of the 5.6 million patents in force in 2005, 90 percent were granted by 10 patent offices: the United States, Japan, Germany, South Korea, United Kingdom, France, Spain, China, Canada and the Russian Federation. Additional details include the following:
1. The largest recipients of patent filings are the patent offices of Japan, the United States, China, South Korea, and the European Patent Office. These five offices account for 77 percent of all patents filed in 2005, and account for 74 percent of all patents granted.
2. That China experienced the highest growth rate in both residential and nonresidential filings, boasting a 42.1 and 27.9 percent increase, respectively, over earlier filing rates.
3. Residents of Japan were the most frequent patent grantees worldwide, followed by residents of the United States, South Korea, Germany and France. Applicants from Japan and the United States owned 28 percent and 21 percent, respectively, of patents in force worldwide in 2005.
4. U.S. applicants continue to lead in overall PCT applications, followed by applicants from Japan and Germany.
Tanzania did not show up in Table 1: Patent Filings and Grants by Office, meaning that we have a dead patent office. However, in Table 2: Patent Filings, Grants and Patents in Force by Country and Territory of Origin, Tanzania is credited with Non-resident direct filings, one National Phase Entry, one PCT International Application, and only 2 Patents in force since 2000 !
In contrast, South Africa has 5,554 National Phase Entries, 248 non-resident filings and 2,486 patents in force. China, our satellite development partner, has 2,561 non-resident direct filings, 156 Resident Direct filings, and 59,087 patents in force. Brazil has 3,821 Resident direct filings, 2,560 non-resident direct filings, and 5,500 patents in force. United States garnered 202,776 direct resident filings, 51,921 non-resident direct filings and 1,214,556 patents in force.
If we really have scientists and engineers in Tanzania, how come they've not done anything to change the world like their foreign counterparts? What have all the research institutes done to positively impact the lives of Tanzanians? People all over the world are coming up with innovative ways of performing old tasks and improved seeds for bountiful harvests. The report shows that the United States and the Japanese Patent Offices respectively had more than 900,000 and 800,000 patents pending in 2005. How many Tanzanians have been issued with any utility patent from any country whatsoever since 2000?
Professor Boroffice of Nigeria was once quoted as saying, "We must contribute to the development of technology because he, who has technology, has power." I agree with him. But nobody ever transfers power willingly. The Chinese did not send their scientist to the UK or the US to build satellites. They stole the technology by the process of reverse engineering. The professor should know what I am talking about, but I doubt whether our lawyers do. Reverse engineering is the general process of analyzing a technology specifically to ascertain how it was designed or how it operates in order to duplicate or enhance the object. Reverse engineering is illegal in some countries. Our lawyers should study our domestic laws and international treaties on the subject. We can start with products whose patents have expired and move from there.
If I may I humbly ask, are Tanzanian lawyers paying any attention to patent practice? Why are they not collaborating with Tanzanian scientists and engineers to develop a robust patent protection system? While our lawyers are enmeshed in land cases, election/chieftaincy petitions and petty politics, the legal minds of other nations are moving forward, in tandem with their inventors, leaving us behind like paralytic consumers of technology.
Finally, one conclusion to be drawn from the above facts is that Tanzanian leaders and scientists know nothing with respect to patent law in the development of science and technology. When President Jakaya Kikwete bemoaned the various problems confronting the country, attributing them to disrespect for the rule of law, he, a scientist, I believe, knows the importance of obeying natural laws. Inventions are based on strict adherence to natural laws. Obedience to law is the key to technological development. Our total disregard for laws is our bane. You cannot practice science with a crooked mind. Science abhors dishonesty!
Yona Fares Maro
I.T. Specialist and Digital Security Consultant