Rouse Africa in Profile: Carole Theuri

the sky’s not the limit …

Carole is a UK-trained Kenyan IP lawyer, working with Rouse Africa in Cape Town.

Carole Theuri is one of those people whose smile seems to brighten the day –when you talk to her you have the feeling that anything, absolutely anything, is possible. One of the dreams closest to her heart at the moment is to finish her private pilot’s licence training and take her family on a trip out of Nairobi, flying low over the savannah for a birds’-eye view of the wild life - elephants, giraffes, lions - and on to one of Kenya’s white-sand beaches for lunch.  She loves flying, but has currently deferred her pilot training in order to concentrate on building her Intellectual Property practice.  She’ll most definitely be back to it though.  She may be an unabashed enthusiast, but she’s also very good at making things happen.

Her early interest in technology, and enthusiasm for finding out how things work - she actually derives pleasure from reading manuals - might have led her to follow in her father’s footsteps and study IT.   That is what she would have done, in fact, had it not conflicted with another of her ambitions: to travel and experience other parts of the world.  Because there was a perfectly good IT course in Nairobi, she decided to change tack and study Law, which would mean studying in the UK.

She decided on the University of Kent, which turned out to be a good choice.  She was very happy there, never felt out of place, met lots of interesting new people, and enjoyed her studies.  But still, her early interest in technology remained.  She was always angling to find some way of getting back to it and in her third year she felt she had found it.  As part of her work in a Legal Aid Clinic, she became involved in a copyright case.  Although the case ultimately settled out of court, her interest in IP was ignited: she had seen the possibility of merging her legal training and her interest in technology. 

On graduation, she returned to Kenya with the intention of working for an IP firm.  But she was disappointed to find that there weren’t any – IP tended to be done by the big firms if and when an IP matter came along.  Often there was no separate IP department.  At that point, Carole’s pragmatic streak came to the fore:  she decided there was no point pursuing IP at that stage, and turned instead to Human Rights.  But her enthusiasm for IP hadn’t deserted her: if currently there was no opportunity, she would, some time in the future, obtain an IP Masters degree and create one.

For the next few years, she worked hard on Human Rights matters, including on a large case concerning electoral malpractice that went to the Supreme Court.  Despite strong evidence of malpractice, the case was ultimately unsuccessful and at this point Carole knew it was time for her to take a different direction.  Her old IP enthusiasm re-surfaced and she decided to move to the town of Stellenbosch, 45 minutes outside Cape Town, where the copyright guru, Professor Owen Dean, was teaching.  She thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn from someone at the top of the field and so it proved to be.  It also turned out to be a fortuitous move in other ways as well because one of the subjects was being taught by South African Plant Breeders Rights’ expert and Von Seidels’ Managing Partner, Bastiaan Koster, and when Von Seidels and Rouse subsequently entered into a joint venture to create Rouse Africa, Carole was asked to join.  Working with an international intellectual property practice seemed to her the perfect opportunity and so far it has been: she’s loving the international experience and making the most of every challenge that comes her way – one being management of the Rouse Africa IP blog:  www.ipkaribu.com.

Her international outlook, however, and her desire to know as much of the world as possible, is matched by a deep attachment to Kenya.  She grew up in an English-speaking family, learning Swahili just as an informal language, and now, like others of her generation, she is keen to do what she can to prevent traditional languages, like her tribal language Kikuyu, dying out.  Things are changing.  Whereas in the past, people were sent abroad to do well there and invest back in Kenya, the current generation is keen to return.  In fact, all Carole’s friends who studied abroad have returned to work in Kenya.  There are lots of opportunities there, and a real burst of energy. It’s an exciting time.

Carole too dreams of one day going back to Kenya and continuing her IP work there.  In the meantime, she is part of an interesting group of Kenyan IP lawyers who meet regularly, either in person or online, to discuss IP issues.  “It’s really more like a club than a professional organisation” says Carole.  “We do it simply out of love and enthusiasm for the subject”.   That may be the motivating factor, but the group is obviously very focused and already achieving impressive practical results.  It has, for several years, been working with the Universities to include IP subjects in their moot programmes and is currently working to create a database of trade mark applications filed in Kenya.