Intellectual properties (IP) are the intangible products of the intellectual exertion of individuals, like software developers, authors, or inventors, just to mention a few. Such a product may be mobile applications, like Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, designs, like Coca-Cola’s bottle shapes, novels, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or novel products or processes, like Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press.

There are protections attached to them, known as intellectual property rights (IPR), trademarks, industrial designs, copyright, patents, plant varieties, and trade secrets.

The government of countries vest these property rights to encourage and reward creativity and innovation.

The Nigerian intellectual property (IP) landscape has undergone various changes over time. While more advancements in Intellectual Property laws may quickly come to your mind as a possible development in Intellectual Property in Nigeria, the occurrence of certain Intellectual Property infringement issues and the acknowledgement of the same by the relevant parties through legal suits or public outcry are worthy of note. Furthermore, since Intellectual Property Rights thrive in the face of innovation and creativity, the increase in Nigerian startups is a relevant evolution. Intellectual Property’s recognition in Africa, as evident in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), is particularly relevant as well. In the present article, we will discuss some events that have affected the Intellectual Property environment in Nigeria.

The proliferation of startups and the need for Intellectual Property protection

There has been an evident boom in startups in Nigeria from online retail to health, financial, and education technology. Nigeria recorded the highest number of startups in Africa in 2020, with a total of 3300.

This increase in startups leads to increased innovations or creations that will benefit the country at large. For instance, ‘LifeBank‘, a health technology startup, ensures the mobilization of blood donations.

The various Intellectual Property Rights are needed for the adequate protection of these innovations or creations by these startups. For instance, while medical manuals or software codes can be copyrighted, user interfaces can be protected under design law, employee know-how and customer lists can be protected as trade secrets. However, these are not airtight provisions, as creation can be protected under more than one Intellectual Property right.

Furthermore, most, if not all, startups require funding. As a result, they often need to pitch their ideas and product to prospective investors. This may make them prone to Intellectual Property theft. As a result, concerted efforts to file for registration where necessary is paramount.

Topical issues on Intellectual Property

In Nigeria, we do not often experience copyright infringement suits in the entertainment industry. However, in March 2021, a 150 million naira copyright infringement suit by Jude Nnam threw open a wave of varying reactions from both informed and ignorant Nigerians. While others believed that there was a valid case and protested that the damages sought were small, others were certain the suit was “dead on arrival.”

Jude Nnam, a well known Catholic musician and composer of ‘som too chukwu’, sued E-money, KCee and 5 Star Music Ltd and sought for a declaration that the defendants infringed on his copyright by adapting, producing, distributing, marketing, and performing it without his authorization. It is hoped that this suit and the possible judgement will reshape the way Intellectual Property is viewed in the entertainment industry.

Year 2021 also had allegations of Intellectual Property theft by bigger companies against smaller ones or individuals.

In 2021, SideBrief, a Nigeria technology startup, took to its Twitter page to accuse Future Africa’s Adetola from appropriating its IP to build Norebase. They claimed that they had pitched their idea & product, but they were stolen. However, Adetola responded, debunking such accusations while giving a concise history of Norebase. This left Nigerians wondering about the actual situation and how often these occur. Perhaps, legal action will unravel the actual situation.

A report unravelled that Nigeria’s up and coming musician, G-kase (Friday Emeh), recorded a jingle for Shoprite and pitched it to his manager, Samuel Asegiemhe. Innocently, he sent the file to him while awaiting a response or monetary reward. However, the jingle was released without any of the above. After much squabbles, Shoprite commenced a 100 million naira suit against G-kase for copyright infringement for the use of ‘Shoprite’ in his song. The matter, Retail Supermarkets Nigeria Ltd v Mr. Friday Emeh, is still pending in the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Legal developments in Intellectual Property

  1. In 2017, Nigeria ratified the WIPO internet treaties WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT); WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) of 1996; WIPO Beijing Treaty for Protection of Audiovisual Performances of 2012 (BTAP); and the Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind and Visually Impaired Persons of 2013 (Marrakesh treaty). These treaties lay down international standards for copyright protection to meet up with technological developments. WCT protects authors of literary and artistic works, WPPT protects performers and producers of phonograms, and BTAP protects actors and performers in audiovisual performances. At the same time, the Marrakesh treaty ensures the production and transfer of books for blind or low vision persons. Although they are yet to be domesticated, which is a requirement for the enforcement of treatise, this is a welcomed development. This will help Nigeria meet up with international standards to ensure the protection of Intellectual Property.
  2. In 2019, the Nigerian Trademark Registry started publishing its rulings. These rulings are based on opposition or rejection proceedings conducted by it. This will benefit IP practitioners, entrepreneurs, and even students as they get educated on the reasoning of the registry for any proceeding.
  3. In compliance with sections 5(3) and 17(3) of the Patents & Designs Act 1970, on 17th and 26th March 2021, the Nigerian patent and design registry published its first editions of the Patents and Design Journal. This journal contains information about the patents filed to the registry. Hopefully, this will be helpful for inventors or their agents in conducting an effective patent search or for other research purposes.
  4. Based on the international convention for the protection of new varieties of plants (UPOV), 1991, Nigeria enacted the Plant Variety Protection Act 2021. The act protects plant breeders and seeks to facilitate crop productivity and encourage investment in plant breeding and crop variety development. Before then, there was no law or regulation for plant variety protection. Due to the years, it takes to breed new plant varieties, its protection by IP laws is paramount to serve as an incentive to breeders.
  5. In 2021, the Nigerian Copyright (Repeal) Bill 2015 was sent to the National assembly for its approval and enactment. The bill seeks to fill the loopholes in the actual copyright act. This is to ensure it tackles issues arising due to advancements in technology. Online piracy is one of these issues. Part II of the bill lists measures for tackling it, including the long-sort takedown and the safe harbour provisions for internet service providers. Furthermore, there is a restriction on the use or sale of technology or device to circumvent the protection of copyright.

Regional development in Intellectual Property

Due to the African Union’s goal to create a common market for intra-African trade in goods and services, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfTCA) was established by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, signed in 2018 by 44 countries.

This unarguably entails that there will be an exchange of innovation and creativity. As a result, part of its coverage includes the protocol on competition policy and intellectual property rights. Unlike before, IPR has not been a priority in African initiatives.

This will address the territorial nature of Intellectual Property Rights by providing a unified Intellectual Property law/policy for the protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property, thereby encouraging innovation and creativity among member states.

Conclusion: Innovations by startups, intellectual property claims, and advanced laws or structures have been highlighted as part of the transformations in the Nigerian Intellectual Property environment. While high innovations relate to the progress of Intellectual Property, it is not sufficient. The education of innovators or producers on the relevance of safeguarding their work will be far-reaching. Since public opinion may make infringers reconsider their stance, social media call-outs may prove helpful in some cases. However, they should not be relied on, especially on more complex issues. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and legal action are more effective options. Indeed, improvements in laws and policies both locally and regionally indicate Nigeria’s recognition of Intellectual Property and its importance, which in fact, has been part of the clamour over the years. However, these laws’ enforcement and correct interpretation must be achieved for a more significant impact. Intellectual property development should be embraced by all.

Disclaimer: The present article intends to provide general guidance on the subject, and you can also consult us in your specific case.