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Unlocking innovative Nigerian youth with IP

By Adebambo Adewopo
22 May 2022   |   2:46 am
It has become customary for the global community to mark World IP Day on the 26th of April every year to pay tribute to the power of creativity and innovation in the flourishing of human society.

Adebambo Adewopo

The glory of young men is their strength;” Prov. 20:29(a)

It has become customary for the global community to mark World IP Day on the 26th of April every year to pay tribute to the power of creativity and innovation in the flourishing of human society.

In marking this year’s IP Day, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) beams its searchlight on the global youth population. No doubt, the youths of planet earth have been at the receiving end of the world’s most debilitating crises – poverty, hunger, migration, climate, education, health and more – crises that have remained a concern for their future and collective destiny.

This year’s theme, “IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future”, is particularly instructive for Nigeria and its vibrant youth population. It is as if WIPO has launched a prognosis into the Nigerian demographic strength and enormous creative force for development as a point of reference.

In like fashion, UNESCO, only a few days earlier (23rd April), has always marked the “World Book and Copyright Day” to inspire a global culture of creativity and shared humanity through the creative and captivating power of literature, especially for the younger generation. This is a reminder that our shared humanity truly lives and thrives in the marketplace of ideas and the idea that ideas rule the world goes beyond a cliché. The momentum of the global knowledge economy is constantly evolving and reinventing itself to always seek solutions to old and new problems and ultimately meet the needs of society.

In this momentous experience, Nigeria cannot afford to be an exception. As the hub of the Continent’s pool of creativity and innovation, Nigeria has continued its search for a suitable and effective innovation and intellectual property (IP) architecture to deliver on national developmental aspirations. The youths occupy a strategic position in this regard.

The Nigerian National Youth Policy (2009) defines youth as between 18 and 35 years. With the median age of 18 years, current statistics have placed the youth at 60 per cent of the Nigerian population of over 200 million, one of the largest youth populations in the world.

For any nation, those demographic data constitute one of the most formidable human assets to harness the transformation of society.

From that standpoint, when we say, as we often do, that one of our greatest national endowments is the enormous human resources that abound everywhere and in every field of human enterprise, we are referring to knowledge, the fabric of creativity and innovation. That indeed, as we know, is the currency that drives the marketplace of ideas and global economy of today, in which the development status of every nation is measured.

The Nigerian youths are not only large in number; they constitute potent creative and innovative energy available. In WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII) for 2021, Nigeria ranks 118th among 132 economies, having gained three points from its ranking of 121st in the previous year.

Granted that GII ranks economies according to their innovation capabilities measured by multiple indicators with IP intricately embedded in many essential respects, that ranking arguably is below expectation or capacity as it were, not only in terms of the level of development but also in the context of the creative and innovative potentialities of the Nigerian youth population, against all odds.

In the midst of crushing economic conditions and lack of support, the Nigerian youths have never ceased creating and innovating. Their presence and contribution in key sectors are well documented. They dominate the creative, entertainment and media industry, ICT, performing art, fashion, tool and machine fabrication, e-commerce and more. The rise and continuing ascendancy of Nollywood is the making of the youth. It is the same with the explosion of the Nigerian music brand on the global scene.

Music stars like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, Asa, Femi Kuti, Tiwa Savage and countless other talents personify the resilient Nigerian spirit. The same youth has strong showings in the world of digital technologies, building software, codes and solutions in different sectors to meet society’s pressing needs. They continue to shape creativity and innovation in defining their future. They continue to place Nigeria on the global map and echo the authentic African voice.

Ironically, with all these attributes, the full force of their creative and innovative genius still remains largely untapped and locked in the labyrinth of the environment they found themselves. The challenges of development are the burden of the Nigerian youth – social, economic and political, lack of funding, investment and access to finance, digital technology, piracy and counterfeiting, inadequate legal, policy and institutional infrastructure, including IP infrastructure – these top the many militating factors against the innovative Nigerian youth.

As the ‘invisible infrastructure of innovation and source of hidden wealth’ for individuals, organisations and nations, IP protection sits at the core of the creative enterprise of the Nigerian youth, promising them incentives, fortune, not just fame, and enormous resource for job and wealth creation that will contribute to national development.

To achieve this, there is a call on the existing Nigerian IP infrastructure – which comprises the totality of the legal, policy and institutional frameworks and institutions involved in the administration and enforcement of IP rights – to serve the needs of users, creatives, innovators and to bring the benefits of IP protection to the public at large. The role of IP in fostering innovation and encouraging investment in creativity has remained the cardinal objective on which generations of national IP legislation have been based.

In current understanding, this objective has been defined in context, which is that IP right (IPR) does not exist as an end in itself; rather, it must be suited to meet the desired result, thereby rendering the one-size-fits-all assumption a moot point. That is why today, every country, including Nigeria, is expected to design its IP framework to benefit its peculiar interests and the needs of the society.

Yet IP remains at the core of the impact of autonomous intelligence systems, be it in the remote technologies or artificial intelligence, or as it concerns cashless society and the growing disputes surrounding them.

Propelled by the triple complex of global norms, technological transformation and development policies, the waves of IP reforms and policymaking across the world have echoed in the Nigerian IP atmosphere.

In the last three decades or so, there has been a consensus of opinion among the IP community that the three main pillars of Nigerian IP infrastructure – the Copyright, Trademark, and Patent and Designs Acts – have become too weak to govern the prevailing commercial and technological environment.

IP laws, for example, the Trademarks and Patents and Designs Acts, now over half-a-century old could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as adequate or as laws that fully satisfy the standards of innovation, creativity, and development in the emergent digital world. Needless to say, the reform process has been tortuous. However, the progress with copyright in the recent passage of the Copyright Bill 2022 at the Senate marks a testament to the reform of IP infrastructure. This reform has been faced with a history of multiple challenges of funding and investment, law and policymaking, emerging technologies, institutional capacities, and political will, among others.

Evidently, IP law reform, supported by the strengthening of existing IP institutions, has remained paramount in enabling better administration and enforcement of IPRs. Without surmounting these challenges to usher in a more effective IP infrastructure, IP cannot fulfil its role in making the contribution of the Nigerian youth to the economy count for the better. There is therefore the need for all stakeholders to rally support for a speedy concurrence of the House of Representatives and subsequent fast-tracking of Presidential assent to berth a new Copyright Act 2022 and even press further to the industrial property and a wholistic IP reform. Given the current state of affairs, there is assurance that the innovative youths will benefit enormously from a significantly improved IP framework including enhanced enforcement measures that would not only harness their creativity but also protect their products in both the copyright and innovation space.

This, for instance, has been well canvased through the introduction of legal regimes of digital copyright, traditional knowledge (TK), collective trademark, geographical indications (GI), service marks, and utility models, among other IP reform provisions. Therefore, addressing those imperatives in developing an up-to-date and effective IP legal and policy infrastructure as part of the national innovation agenda remains an important key to unlocking the full potential of the present and future generations of the innovative Nigerian youth population.

The Nigerian youths have continued to push the frontiers of creativity, horning their skills and mastering their art, creating innovative growth trajectories, building new business models and new markets, and constructing strong technological platforms to overcome challenges and create sustainable change. In all these, they have shown that they do not have always to wait for Government to provide infrastructure or development agencies, financial institutions, or donors to provide funds. They have weathered the storm through initial investment in their own infrastructure and education. That tells the story of Nollywood which has grown in leaps and bounds. But for the resilience and vision of a few young men and women of the tube about three decades ago, there would be no Nollywood or the Nigerian youth to celebrate today. The same is the unfolding story of the pioneering Fintech industry that is rapidly emerging and providing new and innovative solutions across different sectors. Clearly, the focus on the youth in marking World IP Day 2022 cannot be any more significant this year, especially in the post-COVID era that has changed everything around us and ushered in the new normal.

The global race to the Fourth Industrial Revolution has shown not only how dynamic is human race but also a race to a future that is not about to come to a full circle any time soon. Backed by the visions of global goals and values, and the transformative impact of new technologies, it is evident, though challenging, that the persistent cycle of global crises – social, economic, and political including the pandemic – has continued to experience a pushback. Does this not attest to man’s conquest if not a seasoned understanding of his ecosystem or better still the salutary power of human ingenuity? The prosperity of a nation is mostly relative to its knowledge production and enabling environment for its diffusion with the youth at its core. With the younger generation at the commanding heights of the knowledge economy, it is evident they hold the key to development on a sustainable basis. Today, our youths face and shape the future of things; these living genres and the force of nature are our harbingers of hope for both the nation and humanity and certainly deserve recognition and celebration. To this end, we salute their strength, and creative and enterprising spirit as they continue to chart new horizons in the age of rapid technological transformation.

Professor Adewopo SAN is a former Director-General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). A contribution at the Intellectual Property Symposium organised in Lagos on 25-26 April 2022 by the Office of International Computer Hacking and IP (ICPH) & Bureau for International Narcotics Enforcement and Control, United States Embassy, Abuja, as part of the commemoration of World Intellectual Day 2022