‘Nigeria’s intellectual property laws not suited for emerging commercial and technological development’
Intellectual Property (IP) law seems to be an area that does not really appeal to the majority of Nigerian legal practitioners. As a result, there are few legal scholars in this interesting but unpopular area of law, possibly because of the seemingly intractable intellectual property theft across the country. But Professor Adebambo Anthony Adewopo, (SAN), is a leading IP law scholar. He pioneered teaching and research in IP at the Faculty of Law, Lagos State University (LASU). He was one of distinguished lawyers, who were sworn in as Senior Advocates of Nigeria two weeks ago. In this interview with BETRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the IP law practice in Nigeria and the need for a systematic law reform system that would address the emerging commercial and technological development in intellectual property.
As a leading IP scholar and practitioner, your taking the silk has obviously further raised intellectual property visibility in Nigeria given the fact that you are well known in this field of law. What are the implications of your conferment as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on Intellectual Property Law in Nigeria?
First of all, I am profoundly thankful to God for his exceeding grace. I am both humbled and honoured to be admitted into the Inner Bar and I believe it brings some measure of significance to Intellectual Property (IP) in Nigeria. I derive personal fulfillment in the attainment and more importantly, a sense of responsibility for IP development, our profession and the society at large.
Considering that you are the first professor of IP law conferred with SAN in Nigeria and having also served as Director-General of Nigerian Copyright Commission, what unique role are you poised to play in the emerging dynamics of IP as well as the development of creative and innovation industries in Nigeria?
The promotion and protection of creativity and innovation are imperatives for the development of the economy. This has not been prioritised in our recent economic planning or agenda. And certainly,IP, which is central in that process has not been accorded sufficient attention, particularly when we are strong in terms of bringing our competitiveness to bear in the creative and innovative capacities as a nation. All we need to do is to reorganise our existing institutional structures for the administration of IP. IP has never been more economically important than it is today in its strategic role for national development in many cross-cutting areas of importance; be it education, technology, public health, trade, agriculture and food security, biodiversity, entertainment, media, and more. These are the critical sectors of our economy and polity today.
IP is at the core of human development which continues to offer great potential for contributing to the revival of the economy in terms of enhanced revenue generation, job creation and meeting the objectives of national economic reform. I have always maintained that the entire structure of IP administration in the IP law and policy reform as a support system for economic development needs a major overhaul if we really want IP to produce the desired result. The present fragmented structures and legal framework cannot support our economic agenda or produce significant output. What we need is a holistic reform of IP in substance and in form, including a well-articulated national IP and innovation policy. Developing countries like Nigeria with significant creative and productive capacity need IP law and policy to leverage global competitiveness. There is no better time than now to engender this as a matter of national interest and sustainable development. To this, I am inexorably committed.
How will you rate intellectual property law? In this wise, do you think there are enough laws to check intellectual property theft in Nigeria?
It is a well-known fact that the body of IP laws in Nigeria has been in need of reform and the attempts at reform have had a chequered history. The laws have remained largely unsuited to the emergent commercial and technological development. The absence of a systematic law reform system has contributed immensely to the apparently comatose state of IP regime in the country coupled with the peculiar nature of the creative and IP based industries. In the recent past, reform had picked up gingerly and all hands must be on deck to see to the realisation of the process in the interest of IP and its role in the current economic reform process. The promotion and protection of creativity and innovation are an indispensable part of economic development. IP is critical to that, particularly for a developing country with tremendous creative capacities like Nigeria.
What are the impediments to the protection of intellectual property? More specifically, what are the major challenges affecting copyright laws in Nigeria?
The major challenge to IP protection is most certainly digital technology. This is so globally. Digital technology has given IP piracy a new architecture and a new meaning. The regulatory and industry challenges reinforce the need for law and policy reform in order to strengthen the administration and enforcement of IP law. This scenario presents a common drawback to the effective exploitation and protection of copyright and other IP rights in Nigeria.
The issue of decentralisation of collecting society for intellectual property has remained a major issue. Do you think that the recent liberalisation is a step in a right direction? What role do you feel the Government should play in maintaining a stable collecting society in Nigeria?
Like other jurisdictions, collective management (CM) has been one of the most challenging aspects of copyright system in Nigeria for many years. This is due to a combination of many factors and lack of better understanding of CM. The debate over the appropriate regime or framework for CM is well trodden. I will like to see a virile CM system without the rancour and animosity that have visited that sector for quite a while. Ironically, over the years, most stakeholders have shared common interests and goals but the crisis of midwifing the needed cohesion has been almost insurmountable. The role of CM has continued to be redefined in the current dynamics of IP in the digital environment and this will, in turn, engender a gradual process of stabilisation.
The primary concern remains that of the creators and authors and that is why they are central in the effective functioning of collective management organisation (CMO). We must always bear in mind that CMOs are merely intermediaries in the exploitation of creative works, although they are significant to the realisation of the economic interest of right holders. I believe a strong CM system
will eventually emerge.