What exactly is IP? Read Okoroji’s book

By Tony OkorojiIntellectual Property has become a very important subject in global trade and a significant item in virtually every international trade negotiation process. Any nation which is considered not to be committed to the protection of Intellectual Property rights of others is sure to face significant consequences from the world’s major trading nations. Because of the changing nature of wealth, a sizeable part of the Gross Domestic Product of most countries now has appreciable Intellectual Property content. No country which is serious about growing its economy and providing jobs for its citizens, can afford to ignore this sometimes, complex issue.

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So, what is Intellectual Property? Intellectual Property may be defined as the proprietary rights which result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. It must be clearly stated that these rights do not apply to the physical objects in which the creation may be embodied but to the intellectual creation itself. For example, Microsoft Inc. might own the intellectual property rights in a computer program but not own the CD which contains the program. Similarly, Chinua Achebe or his estate might own the intellectual property rights in “Things Fall Apart” but not own the paper on which the enchanting story is printed. Conversely, someone might be the owner of a video CD copy of an edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show but that does not make such a person the owner of the intellectual property rights in the show. In the same vein, Oprah Winfrey might claim the intellectual property rights in her show recorded on a video CD belonging to someone else.

The name, Coca-Cola must be one of the most famous names in the world. While there are thousands of variants of the cola drink, the one that comes by the name, Coca-Cola or simply, Coke has acquired a world-wide reputation for quality. That reputation is an asset that produces enormous wealth. Imagine if everyone was free to put the name, Coca-Cola or Coke on his product. How are we to distinguish the unique product of the Coca-Cola Company from the concoction made by a fly-by-night beverage maker in Ijebu Ode? What if everyone was free to sell his product in a bottle similar to the unique Coca-Cola bottle? There will be absolute confusion in the marketplace and commerce, the way we know it, will be impossible. The names, Coca-Cola and Coke and the peculiar Coca-Cola bottle are trademarks of the Coca-Cola Company.

A trademark distinguishes the goods of one producer from those of another. The law protects trademarks as intellectual property because a trademark can be “stolen” without the owner losing any tangible asset. The Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd uses the names, Coca-Cola and Coke and the uniquely shaped bottle. Such use however is authorized. Major organizations guard their trademarks jealously and any unauthorized use of a trademark might result in a massive lawsuit.

My brother and friend, an irrepressible Nigerian entrepreneur by the name, Leo Stan Eke, has been working assiduously to make the name, Zinox; synonymous with quality computers in Nigeria and beyond. Mr. Eke is expending incredible time and energy building a brand name. That brand name is a trademark, a valuable property and there is no question that anyone who attempts to exploit that property without authorization will “see fire”. Another person that is quietly creating a brand name that is winning admiration is Mr. Cosmas Maduka. Mr. Maduka’s Coscharis is fast becoming a symbol of quality for the different products associated with the name. An appropriate review might reveal that the name, Coscharis today has more real value than the company’s fabulous corporate Headquarters building on Adeola Odeku Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The Mercedes Benz brand name and its three-star symbol have long been associated with luxury and dependability in the global automobile industry. In consumer electronics, Sony has almost become another word for trust. It is in the same way that the average Nigerian housewife is in love with names like Bournvita, Milo, Maggi, Omo, Indomie, Uncle Ben’s, De Rica, Peak, etc. These names have been established in her mind as representing good quality. Even when the products bearing the names are more expensive than others, the Nigerian housewife will buy these brands. These names are worth millions to their owners and the law protects them as intellectual property. Some of the names have also cost millions to establish. Anyone who still doubts the value of a trademark, only needs to look at the billions of naira each of the mobile telephone service providers in Nigeria is spending on advertising and promotions to make sure that anytime a Nigerian thinks of making a telephone call or buying internet data, he thinks GLO, MTN, AIRTEL or 9 MOBILE.

Intellectual Property covers a wide area of creative rights. It is considered so important that the United Nations had to establish a specialized agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), to deal with intellectual property issues. From the treaty establishing WIPO, which was concluded in Stockholm Sweden on July 14, 1967, it can be said that intellectual property includes rights relating to Literary, artistic, scientific works, broadcasts, phonograms and the performances of performing artistes all of which belong to the branch known as Copyright and Neighbouring rights.

Intellectual Property Rights also cover inventions in all fields of human endeavor, scientific discoveries, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks, commercial names, designations and protection against unfair competition all of which are located in the industrial property branch of Intellectual Property.

Probably because the list of the rights that may be protected as intellectual property is indefinite, the specific article of the Stockholm Treaty which attempts to list those activities that produce intellectual property includes “all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields”.

From the above, it can be seen that Intellectual Property rights may be broadly divided into Copyright and Neighbouring rights which rights are protected in Nigeria by the Copyright Act and Industrial Property rights protected in Nigeria by the Patents & Designs Act and the Trademarks Act.

With the expanding scope of Intellectual Property rights however, it is obvious that new laws are required in Nigeria to deal with the protection of emerging rights such as Geographical Indications, Undisclosed Information, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, Animal Breeders and Farmers’ rights, etc.

The bottom line is that with the changing nature of wealth, the true wealth of our country is no longer in the oil buried underground but in the creative genius in the heads of our people.

The foregoing, in my series of lectures in “Saturday Breakfast”, is adapted from my book, “Copyright & the New Millionaires” A hard copy of the book can be obtained at TOPS LTD, 8 Tokunbo Alli St, Off Toyin Street, Ikeja. You may also call Edith on 0803 849 6110. I hope you found the piece informative.

See you next week.

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