In a recent article titled: “M-Pesa inventor plans to light low income homes” the Daily Nation reports that “The man behind the M-Pesa mobile money transfer service Nick Hughes has unveiled a new invention. Mr Hughes recently launched a solar powered light that uses the mobile phone.” The solar kit known as M-Kopa has three light bulbs that provides a clean source of energy for lighting as well as other uses in rural and urban homes throughout Kenya.

Speaking on the M-Pesa and M-Kopa innovations, Mr. Hughes is quoted as saying:

“My inventions are all about solving problems. The solar device is meant to provide affordable and clean energy to low income households in Africa. M-Pesa was about getting money more accessible through mobile phones… The two inventions — M-Pesa and M-Kopa — have been designed specifically to suit the needs and budgets of Kenyan consumers…M-Pesa was one my greatest achievements in life and I expect that M-Kopa will be an enormous success story surpassing M-Pesa”

The above video clip is an interview with Nick Hughes back when he was Head of Global Payments at Vodafone, where he pioneered the M-Pesa product in conjunction with Safaricom in Kenya.

Comment:

Out of all the Kenyan inventors that have come forward claiming that Safaricom ‘stole’ the M-Pesa concept, none of these claims are yet to be properly considered by a court of law, the Industrial Property Tribunal or the Competent Authority (Copyright Tribunal) so as to determine whether indeed these inventors had taken significant steps to safeguard (through the copyright system and perhaps, the patent system) and more importantly to brand their supposed mobile money transfer inventions. (See for instance,
a certain Mr. Nyagaka Anyona Ouko (@mpesa_innovator) who claims to have come up with the invention of mobile money transfer and whose claim is supported by a copyright registration certificate for a literary work titled: “Mobile Cash Transfer”)

During CIPIT’s inaugural conference, we asked the all-important question: “Should Kenya Allow Software Patents?” and we debated arguments for and against software patents, with specific reference to the existing intellectual property (IP) laws governing software generally namely copyright law and patent law.

As Kenya gradually embraces the possibility of software patenting, the real challenge still remains: branding. The successful branding of M-Pesa by Safaricom is what has given Kenya the global acclaim and recognition we now enjoy. This process of branding is done with the help of the trademark system. As we all know, a trade mark has several key functions, one of which is to identify and distinguish a particular product on which it appears from competing products. In other words a trade mark, in enabling the consumer confronted with competing products or services to identify a particular product or service by referring to the trade mark used in connection with it, simultaneously functions as a means whereby the consumer may distinguish that particular product or service from other similar products or services for which different trade marks are used. In addition, a trademark also has the function of an advertising and selling device. Through active promotion a trade mark acquires custom-attracting properties, actually helping to sell the product in connection with which it is used.

Not to mention that trademark law provides that a trade mark rights holder has full powers to exclude anybody else without his consent from using or importing goods or services having the registered trade mark. All in all, branding is a win-win situation for both Safaricom and its loyal customers.

It’s no secret that Safaricom has consistently pulled out all the stops in its aggressive and high quality advertising campaigns and the latest M-Pesa advert (featured above) is no exception. It is no longer disputed that Safaricom’s branding strategy has been the single greatest factor in making M-Pesa the worldwide success that it is and therefore more Kenyan innovators and creatives must find their own ways of branding their products and services well enough to be able to compete with other competitors offering similar goods and services in the same market.

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