In this article, Special Guest Contributor Liz Lenjo of MyIP Legal Studio weighs in on IP implications in the fashion industry and the increasingly blurred line between 'inspiration' and 'exploitation'
Liz Lenjo is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She specializes in Intellectual Property, Entertainment, Media and Fashion Law. Considered among the pioneers in this niche area of law and recognized in Business Daily Top 40 under 40 in 2018 at 32 years, Liz holds a Bachelor of Laws from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa - Kenya, a Postgraduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law and a Master of Laws from the University of Turin (Italy) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). She is also the Founder and Managing Legal Consultant of MyIP Legal Studio, a boutique legal consultancy catering to the creative industry as well as corporates and Non-Governmental Organizations that use art and content to market their products and services as well as a part-time lecturer at a leading law school in Nairobi, Kenya where she lectures on Entertainment and Media Law.
How do you feel about the state of innovation in Africa today?
LL - Africa is really doing well when it comes to innovation. Even though we may be playing catch up sometimes, in the technology and fashion space, we are really improving. That is why IP safeguarding must be primary; otherwise all these novel efforts may be in vain. The business world is quite rough and only the smartest and toughest survive. As we start asserting Traditional Knowledge (TK) and cultural expressions as sui generis IP rights in our communities, I look forward to communities actively innovating around what they already own and creating dynasties from their cultural wealth.
Speaking of traditional knowledge, you published a paper recently that stresses the need for the industry to address the role of culture in fashion and entertainment. What motivated you to write on this?
LL - The fashion industry must address the role of culture in the fashion business and we must determine where we draw the line between “inspiration” and “exploitation,” and most importantly, when compensation is due. Traditional knowledge and cultural expressions are attempting to come into their own as intellectual property rights. Thus, we must focus the presently blurred line for the fashion industry to avoid frivolous claims that will undoubtedly affect this economically lucrative industry. The Maasai “Shuka,” Louis Vuitton 2012 Spring Collection, and Beyoncé’s Indian Desi inspired music video brought the issue of traditional cultural expressions to the surface of social media. In reaction to this, several proponents of traditional knowledge and cultural expressions shared their opinions on social media about the need for compensation and recognition of such intellectual property rights for communities whose culture is exploited for commercial gain. This is arguably a valid reaction judging from the value of the fashion industry on a global economy scale.