BY EMEKA AGINAM
While software piracy and related offences are still on the increase causing more economic harm than good despite regulations, panellists at the just concluded Current Issues in Information and Communication Technology conference have called for immediate review of the Nigeria intellectual and trademark laws.
Accordingly, intellectual property covers an expanse of legal territory that includes copyrights, trademarks and patent law. While trademark law regulates and protects brand identity, copyright serves the preservation of rights to creative works such as literary or musical art.
Given the fact that strong IP protection is economically beneficial as the consumers expect that the industry and governments take a stand against non-genuine software, the panellists, without mincing words noted that there was need for government to review the IP laws and put in place stronger IP protections and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard the ability of individuals and companies to innovate which will go a long way in creating jobs and economic opportunity.
Strong protection of IP:
This is even as Microsoft at the World Intellectual Property Day held last April called for strong protections for IP as central to facilitating a culture of innovation that can spur economic growth and create jobs.
At the capacity building event that discussed current trends in ICT including cloud computing, cybercrime, 21st century ICT skills, starts-ups, mobile web, among others, the panellists in the panel discussion on fostering innovation in Nigeria, intellectual property rights protection and enforcement, while calling on the IT industry, governments and consumers to speak out about the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights agreed that if IP was adequately protected, local software developers will be encouraged to innovate and Nigerian companies would stop paying heavily for foreign jobs and content as these would be readily available.
The DG of NOTAP, Dr. Bindir who described IP as “your brain producing solutions to problems” lamented that huge sums of money were paid to foreign companies for use on their Intellectual Property by Nigerian companies on a monthly basis.
He challenged Nigerians to innovate and patent appropriately so that their IP will not be infringed on , adding that IP can become a driving force in the development of the Nation.
For Bindir, enforcement was paramount and he called for a review of the Nigeria patent laws and trademark laws as they were outdated.
He stressed that if IP was adequately protected, local software developers will be encouraged to innovate and Nigerian companies would stop paying heavily for foreign jobs and content as these will be readily available locally.
Need for review of IP
“There is certainly the need for the review. IP is the major aspect of development, and the fact that Nigeria has remained undeveloped with very weak local industries, weak education system, so much natural resources on one hand but high poverty and unemployment on the other hand are just a few pointers that the Nigerian IP system is not working.
Patent and trademark laws are all British based”
“If you check, you will find that the Patent and trademark laws are all British based since the colonial era. I think even the reviewed laws as we have them now are 1970 laws.
There is no way that these laws will cater for all the changes, knowledge and development that have revolutionized the world today. It certainly will not have any reflection on ICT (since we all started using it vigorously around the late 80s and early 90s). So these laws must be changed.
The same applies to the Copyright laws. Now, IP is composed of Industrial Property and Copyrights. In most countries, these aspects of IP are handled by one organization for harmony, synergy, and effectiveness. The fact that the Patent Registry is under Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment while Copyrights Commission is under Ministry of Justice does no factor Nigeria. But I am aware that efforts are being mounted to merge these offices into one.
“Now if there is a new law, I hope it will target making our country favorably positioned to not only take advantage of foreign IPs but also to ensure that internally we too need to develop our own IPs and become a force to be reckoned with in industrial development’ Bindir explained.
According to him, currently, Nigeria is only consuming foreign IPs in literally all its formal industries irrespective of the sector, adding that hardly will you see an IP from a Nigerian University or Research Institute in any formal industry in the country.
“This is not good for our development. It literally means that our intellectuals who probably have capacities and capabilities to generate IPs for us to use and develop and make money are just wasted.
“IP should be well understood in Nigeria as the key to unlocking its industrialization and development potential. Then a good culture of generating, protecting, using and benefiting from IP should be developed most particularly among our Universities, and Research Institutions.
Nigeria relies on foreign IPs
“Nigeria currently almost totally relies on foreign IPs in its formal industry irrespective of the sector. This is not good for the country. The local IP system must be developed in such a way that while we use some foreign, we should also use our own and may be even get foreigners to buy or pay for using ours.
“For these to happen, the current IP institutions (the Patent Registry, the Copyrights Commission, some aspects on NOTAP) must be reformed including a total reform of the laws guarding IP and IPR in the country.
“This is necessary because the current laws are outdated and the personnel handling the regulatory aspects are not as dynamically trained to handle the many bits the IP system represents. This is critical. A deliberate IP generation and commercialization must be mounted in the country to ensure that our tertiary institutions responds to the needs of this country most especially in high technologies like ICT etc.
“The heaps of IP we consume from outside is literally emptying our foreign reserves at rates that are alarming. So the message is simple. Get our knowledge system to work so that we also participate in the provision of goods and services in our country and beyond. This is industrialization. This is development” he explained.
In his contribution, Pius Okigbo, Jnr. while recounting his ordeal with his software,X-Trac™, a share registration management systems, which was infringed on by another Nigerian software company, said, “My source code was lifted, re-branded, sold and in use by over five share registrars (formally bank-owned registrars) in Nigeria.”
He expressed his concerns with the legal system as the case has progressed for five years with no logical conclusion in sight.
Legal situations like this, according to him discourages software firms from innovating. “This is simply because legal redress is extremely slow and the infringing party appears free to continue with “business as usual”and goes unpunished”.
He called for the strengthening and enforcement of the intellectual property laws as well as sensitization of the Judiciary in IP issues particularly regarding software as there is a peculiarity in software IP cases due to the fact that the source code which is in most cases invisible is what is in contention.
ISPPON sensitizes start-ups on IP
Okigbo Jnr explained that one of the key drives of ISPON was to sensitize start-up software firms and young software developers on the importance of understanding IP and dissuade them from merely lifting source codes to build their software particularly in the age of mobile application development without proper reference to the original owner(s).
EFCC’s commitment to IP:
Also speaking, Head, Advanced Fee Fraud Section of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Abdul, Chukkol told the audience that all hands must be on deck if IP must be protected and enforced.
He informed that a lot of IP cases have been prosecuted, assuring that EFCC was committed to bring to book, IP culprits .