Celebrating World IP Day 2023: Case of Taita Taveta Basket Weavers

Celebrating World IP Day 2023: Case of Taita Taveta Basket Weavers

The Intellectual Property (IP) world comes together every April 26th to celebrate world intellectual property day and consider how IP aids the global art scene to flourish and enables the technological innovation that drives human progress.1 In 2000, the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) designated April 26th, the day on which the WIPO Convention came into force in 1970, as World IP Day, with the aim of increasing general awareness and understanding of IP. This year’s theme is ‘Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity’. In recognition of this, CIPIT is running a blog series, which highlights and celebrates the “can do” attitude of Kenyan women inventors, creators and entrepreneurs around and their innovative work.

This article celebrates and highlights the work of a basket-weaving community of local women in Kenya’s Taita Taveta County. The local women of Taita Taveta County in Kenya produce sisal woven baskets according to the traditional art skills passed from one generation to another. The baskets have been regarded by many as regional treasures. Over 400 female basket weavers have been trained by skilled experts on how to improve and harmonize the quality of their baskets as a result of the “Taita Basket” trademark being registered as a collective mark. The sale of the baskets has been a source of income for the women since it enables them to pay school fees for their children and also ‘put more food on the table.’ Customers also prefer the baskets to similar ones produced in the region since their quality is also considered as better. Thus, before delving further it is fundamental to fathom what Geographical Indication and a collective mark in IP is and why this is key in acknowledging Taita Taveta basket weavers

Geographic Indications and Collective Marks in Kenya

Geographical Indication (GI) is a sign used to ‘identify a product whose quality, reputation or other such characteristics relate to its geographical origin.’2 Its importance to consumers is that it gives them a guarantee of ‘authenticity, quality and distinctiveness linked to origin’3 and in the case of producers, it protects them from competitors that may try to ‘exploit their reputation and know-how developed to produce genuine high-quality products.’4 Examples of well-known GI products include “Champagne,” “Tequila” and “Roquefort.”5 The TRIPS agreement in section 3 contains Geographical Indications provisions and their protection is well elaborated in Article 22.6

Since some products are rooted in culture, tradition and geography, GIs may play a fundamental role in creating value for the local communities.7Countries may decide to protect GIs in their national legislation by using any of the following approaches namely: unfair competition and passing off, trademark law through the use of collective or certification marks, protected appellations of origins and registered GIs and finally through administrative schemes for protection.8 Kenya’s GI bill9 has not yet been enacted into law. Instead, Kenya fulfills its TRIPS obligations regarding GIs through the trademark system which entails certification and collective marks as provided in section 40 and 40 A of the Trade Marks Act.10

The difference between GI and trademark is that GI is a ‘generic description that may be used by all traders in a particular geographic location in relation to goods which originate from that location,’11 while a trademark is a sign that distinguishes products of a specific trader from the products of a competitor.12 In addition, traders from a certain geographical area enjoy the right to protect a GI from wrongful appropriation while, on the other hand, trademarks are protected from ‘wrongful appropriation at the suit of the registered proprietor of the trademark.’13

A certification mark is defined in the Trademarks Act as a ‘mark adapted in relation to any goods to distinguish in the course of trade goods certified by any person in respect of origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy or another characteristic from goods not so certified…’14 Section 12(1) (d) of the Trademarks Act strengthens the effect of a certification mark15 by providing that for a trademark to be registrable it must contain ‘a word or words having no direct reference to the character or quality of the goods and not being according to its ordinary signification, a geographical name or a surname.’

The Act also defines a collective trademark as a mark ‘capable of distinguishing, in the course of trade, the goods or services of persons who are members of an association, from goods or services of persons who are not members of such association…’16 Once the application is done in the prescribed manner, the mark shall be registrable in the name of the association as a collective trademark or service mark in respect of the goods or services.17 The Trademarks Act further provides that geographical names or other indications of geographical origin may be registered as collective trademarks or service marks.18

Contextualizing the “Taita Basket” as a collective mark

On the 17th and 18th of February 2016, a training workshop for a branding project took place in Voi, and it brought together 30 basket weavers from the ‘surrounding small villages.19 The purpose of the workshop was to learn the ‘importance of the trademark system, standards and quality control for branding products.’20 The participants embraced the idea of having a collective mark to protect and promote their baskets as a brand.21

The basket weavers comprise small groups of women that are middle-aged or elderly.22 The Taita Taveta County government preferred establishing a collective mark to a certification mark since a certifying body would take a long time and accessing the villages for certification is limited.23 The basket weavers needed to form an association in order for them to get a collective mark. They came up with the “Taita Baskets Association” which was registered with the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice.24

The journey towards acquisition of a collective mark ended on 3rd April 2017 when the Kenya Industrial Property Institute registered “Taita Basket” as a collective mark.25 The mark has responsibilities as well as rights.26 Some of the responsibilities include quality standards that have been adopted by the basket weavers.27 The mark was also registered with a view to ‘raising the name recognition of the basket and the region, to preserving and fostering the traditional basket weaving of quality and to strengthening the solidarity among member groups.’28

In light of the above, the role played by women in intellectual property development in Kenya cannot be understated. The registration of the “Taita Basket” as a collective mark has not only been instrumental in the sphere of trademarks but has also had a positive impact on the economic status of basket weavers. The enactment of the GI bill into law will not only promote products locally but will also be useful in penetrating international markets.

Image is from ipc-eui.com

1 WIPO, ‘World IP Day’, <https://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/>

3 ibid

4 ibid

5 Bibi de Lange, Geographical Indications in Africa? <https://edepot.wur.nl/171656 > accessed 23 March 2023

6 Article 22(2) provides that ‘Members shall provide the legal means for interested parties to prevent: (a) the use of any means in the designation or presentation of a good that indicates or suggests that the good in question originates in a geographical area other than the true place of origin in a manner which misleads the public as to the geographical indication of the good and (b) any use which constitutes an act of unfair competition within the meaning of Article 10bis of the Paris Convention (1967)

7 Lauren Natasha Sheldon, The protection of Geographical Indications For Agricultural products in Africa using trademarks and Sui generis Legislation < https://etd.uwc.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11394/4393/sheldon_ln_llm_law_2014.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y> accessed 23 March 2023

8 UNCTAD-ICTSD, Resource Book on TRIPS and Development (Cambridge University Press 2005)

9 oriGIn, Draft Geographical Indications Bill 2007 < https://www.origin-gi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/bill_geo_indications2007.pdf> accessed 24 March 2023

10 Titilayo Adebola, The legal construction of geographical Indications in Africa (11 November 2022) <https://aura.abdn.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2164/19724/Adebola_JoWIP_The_Legal_Construction_VOR.pdf?sequence=1 >accessed 24 March 2023

11 Sheldon (n 7)

12 ibid.

13 ibid.

14 TradeMarks Act 2012, section 40 (1)

15 Enyinna Nwauche, The Protection of Traditional Cultural Expressions in Africa (Springer 2017)

16 Trademarks Act 2012, section 40 A (1)

17 Nwauche ( n 15)

18 Trademarks Act 2012, section 40A (5)

19 WIPO, Japan FIT/IP Global Activities in Africa and LDCs-2019 < https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_flyer_fitjip_africa.pdf> accessed 27 March 2023

21 ibid

22 WIPO, Taita Basket: A New Identity for Basket Weavers in Kenya <https://www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=10875 > accessed 28 March 2023

23 ibid

24 ibid

25 WIPO (n 22)

26 ibid

27 ibid

28 Regulation and Quality Standards for Collective Mark “Taita Basket” 2016, Article 2 (2)

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