• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Intellectual property: Imperatives for a robust rights protection mechanism

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Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the World Intellectual Property Day on April 26,a day set aside by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life. The occasion presented another splendid opportunity to call attention to salient issues on intellectual property protection in Nigeria.

Discussions around intellectual property protection have often been limited to works of performing artistes and writers. Many pundits often ignore intellectual property that relate to business and the economy when discussing this subject matter. Yet intellectual property transcends inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce. Therefore, brand assets, brands, sublime marketing communication concepts and ideas, amongst a handful other perception-oriented initiatives, initiated or created by a business are intellectual property.

Since some appreciable effort, time and resources were expended before the property became reality, it is only natural to advocate for its protection from bootleggers and copycat brands. This is what obtains in many advanced economies. In successful economies, when a business conceptualises a marketing programme, or a public relations concept, or a product brand for commercial purposes, that concept becomes its intellectual property and is jealously protected by its rightful owner as well as the laws of the land. The Nigerian business environment is struggling with this.

One of the new realities that humanity has become aware of is the importance of intellectual property to the social and economic development of countries and individuals. In the sphere of real business and economy, industrial property and its protection are the key not only to the successful development of individual companies, but for the welfare of society at large. Now, the strongest businesses and individuals are those who possess intellectual property and have also equipped themselves with respective efforts for their legal protection as an important prerequisite for securing competitiveness and winning the minds of consumers.

Bringing the matter home, Nigeria is the largest consumer market for almost everything in West Africa at least, but has one of the highest counterfeiting rates in the region. Because of the remarkable impunity prevalent in the economy coupled with the dearth of relevant institutions and the feebleness of existing ones, intellectual property infringements easily undermine the potential for economic growth. Criminal groups engaged in the offending practices vary considerably in size and sophistication. There are small-scale criminals frequently and insidiously repackaging goods or ideas sourced from their owners; and there are more sophisticated groups with links to international rings. Where it concerns counterfeit products, these rings also further wring the economy by smuggling the previously breached goods via the borders. Infringers are usually also involved in other types of crime – hacking, money laundering, etc.

Presently, my deepest insight on this is the fact that marketplace volatility and regulatory complexities make prioritisation of intellectual property protection difficult in Nigeria. However, it is crucial to tackle intellectual property infringements to prevent their escalation to the major threat facing investors of capital and talent. There is also need for affected entities to adopt a proactive approach to countering the problem. A multi-layered approach is going to be most effective in the middle term than just, say, enforcement. Industry stakeholders must come together to put in place a virile mechanism for ensuring high profile prosecution and convictions to serve as deterrent to intellectual property violators. Investors will also need to implement stringent internal mitigation strategies to secure their supply chains, and co-operate where possible with national and international regulatory bodies.

 

TONY OGHOGHORIE

Oghoghorie is brand assurance adviser at Guinness Nigeria Plc, a Diageo company.

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