Thursday, 1st June 2023

‘Role of women in innovation, creativity is increasingly recognised in IP community’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
13 May 2023   |   4:02 am
Lara Kayode is the founder of the law firm of O. Kayode & Co, an Intellectual Property (IP) boutique. Her practice covers both corporate and commercial matters, with emphasis on industrial and intellectual property law, advertising law and alternative dispute resolution with special interest in mediation.

Lara Kayode is the founder of the law firm of O. Kayode & Co, an Intellectual Property (IP) boutique. Her practice covers both corporate and commercial matters, with emphasis on industrial and intellectual property law, advertising law and alternative dispute resolution with special interest in mediation.

A graduate of Law from the University of Buckingham, England, and at the QMW University of London, where she obtained an LLM in intellectual property law in 1994, Lara was admitted as a solicitor and barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1992. A CEDR-accredited mediator since 2005, she is a member of a number of associations, including the Section of Business Law of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), PTMG, ITMA and AIPPI where she is the Vice President of the Nigerian National Group. An active member at the International Trademarks Association, she currently serves as the Vice Chair, Building Bridges Committee and leads the Legal Commission on the Management Committee at the Lycee Francais Louis Pasteur in Lagos, where she serves as Honorary Board member.

In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she speaks shares her experiences as a lawyer having practiced for over three decades, as well as her interest in intellectual property.

Share with us your background and how it influenced your career path?
As a little girl, after I saw a picture of my dad in his wig and gown after he had been called to the bar in 1971, I just knew I wanted to be a lawyer. My mum who is of blessed memory, was a teacher and taught at Command Childrens’ Schools in Lagos. My parents encouraged me and my siblings to work hard and focus on being professionals. They were very supportive even when I suffered setbacks in my schoolwork, as they encouraged me and believed in my capabilities.  

After I was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1992, I gained admission to study for the LLM at QMW, University of London and gained an LLM in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law in 1994. As a young undergraduate in university, I was first fascinated by the thought of intangible items being regarded as property, and secondly by the fact that individuals could possess ownership rights over these kinds of property. This evoked an interest in intellectual property, and subsequently informed my decision to study and pursue a career in IP. To date, I cannot say that I regret making that decision.

As an IP specialist and with three decades of experience, how has it shaped you today?
Thirty years of legal experience and nearly the same amount of time in specialised IP practice has led to a deep level of expertise in the field. How has this shaped my practice and me? I believe this has led to a strong global reputation in this particular field of law. The recognition from peers and industry leaders is humbling.

We have had the grace to build and establish long-standing client relationships. It has also led to being positioned for leadership and service-oriented opportunities in the field. Overall, 30 years of IP practice has shaped my career in many ways, including expertise, reputation, client relationships, leadership opportunities, and work-life balance.

When it comes to protecting IP, a lot of people do not know their rights. Does this affect your work, how well are you expanding this awareness?
Creating awareness about IP rights is crucial to ensure that individuals and businesses can protect their creations and innovations. The ways in which we can create awareness includes but is not limited to education, outreaches, public campaigns, government support and professional associations. Lack of knowledge affects the work we do. Many owners of IP rights do not even know the value of what they have, therefore cannot even begin to engage in the discussions involved in the protection of such rights. It’s like buying a prime piece of landed property and not bothering to seek registration or even build a fence to protect the land.

At O. Kayode & Co, we are involved in creating awareness among the youth, MSME owners in Nigeria, and the continent at large. For instance, we volunteered on the Unreal Campaign at INTA, which involves creating awareness of the dangers of counterfeiting and the importance of buying only original goods. One of the slogans we adopted during the campaign was ‘counterfeit products won’t always kill you, they might burn your house down, or damage your skin forever, they are a waste of your money, counterfeit goods are badly made!’

Awareness can be created through outreach programmes, bridge building initiatives between IP stakeholders, speaking at universities and school, public campaigns on social media, billboards, and other advertising channels. Government can also play a crucial role in creating awareness about IP rights by providing resources and information through PPP’s. Professional associations also can assist in the awareness creation task. By increasing awareness, individuals and businesses can protect their intellectual property and ensure that their creations and innovations are not infringed upon.

The law is very critical to protecting IP, would you say it is playing its role in helping people get justice?
While the law is critical to protecting intellectual property (IP), its effectiveness in helping people get justice can vary depending on a number of factors. In Nigeria, there are several challenges that affect the ability of the legal system to provide adequate protection for IP rights holders and ensure they receive justice. However, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held a multi stakeholder workshop with World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) validates the draft National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy (NIPPS). The draft policy sets out a road map of programmes to achieve its mission to promote a comprehensive and conducive IP ecosystem in Nigeria with a vision to utilise IP for sustainable National Prosperity. 

Some strategic objectives under the draft policy for Nigeria include the following; strengthening of the legal framework for the protection of IP rights in Nigeria; strengthening of the institutional framework for the administration and management of intellectual property rights in Nigeria; Enhancing the generation and protection of intellectual property rights; The promotion and facilitation of commercial exploitation of intellectual property assets and technology transfer; Strengthening the legal and institutional framework for enforcement of intellectual property rights in Nigeria; Development of the required human resources for the administration, protection, commercialisation, and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and Promotion of intellectual property training, education, and awareness.

In addition, President Muhammadu Buhari on February 14, 2023, signed into law the Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022. The Act was enacted to provide for the ease of doing business, to ensure transparency, efficiency and productivity in Nigeria.

As an expert, what do you consider major concerns protecting IP in Nigeria?
Enforcement Challenges; even with adequate laws in place, enforcement of IP rights remains a significant challenge in Nigeria. The Nigerian government needs to improve its enforcement efforts by providing better resources to the appropriate agencies and courts.

Lack of Public Awareness: Many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, are not aware of the importance of protecting IP rights. Therefore, concerned bodies and stakeholders including the government need to embark on an educational campaign to raise public awareness of the value of intellectual property. Counterfeiting and Piracy remain significant challenges in Nigeria. The Nigerian government needs to increase its efforts to crack down on counterfeiters and pirates to ensure that IP rights are respected.

Overall, enforcing IP in Nigeria remains a significant challenge, and addressing these concerns will require a concerted effort from all the stakeholders to make additional progress especially in the development technological industrial revolution.

As a woman who has grown through the ranks and held/holding top positions, what lessons have you garnered over time in your years of practise?
One of the most important lessons I have learnt over the years is to believe in yourself and your abilities. Have confidence in your skills and knowledge, and trust your judgment. I have learnt to be authentic, and will advise everyone reading this to be true to yourself and your values.

Don’t try to be someone else or emulate someone else’s leadership style. Authenticity is essential to building trust and credibility with your clients and your peers alike. No matter how successful you are, I will say one must embrace challenges and see them as opportunities for growth and learning. Don’t be afraid to take risks or step out of your comfort zone.

This point cannot be overemphasised; I have learnt to build a strong network of mentors, sponsors, and peers who can provide support, guidance, and feedback. Networking is essential for career growth and advancement. Don’t be afraid to fail, and use failures as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and use those lessons to improve.

It’s essential to prioritise work-life balance and take care of your physical and mental health. Find ways to manage stress, stay healthy, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. I believe in continuous learning, I am always seeking new knowledge and skills by being open to learning from others. Stay up-to-date with industry trends; attend training programmes, conferences and meetings.

What drives you?
I believe I am driven by a combination of passion, hard work, perseverance, confidence, communication skills, and a supportive network. These factors have helped me overcome obstacles, navigate challenges, and achieve success in my career.

How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Set clear and specific goals for yourself, both short-term and long-term. Be ambitious and aim high. Don’t be afraid to dream big and take calculated risks. Build relationships and networks with other successful women and mentors who can provide guidance and support. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who can help you achieve your goals. Continue to educate yourself and acquire new skills that will help you advance in your career.

Attend conferences, workshops, and training programmes that can help you develop new skills and knowledge. Build your self-confidence and assertiveness. Speak up, ask for what you want, and don’t be afraid to negotiate for what you deserve. Be prepared to face challenges and setbacks along the way. Stay focused, persevere, and be resilient. Learn from your mistakes and failures and use them as opportunities to grow and improve.

Finally, find a work-life balance that works for you. Take care of your physical and mental health, and make time for your family, friends, and hobbies.

What should women do differently to thrive and evolve, in line with Women and IP?
The theme of ‘Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity’ highlights the need to support and promote the participation of women in IP-related fields, such as patenting, trademark registration, and copyright protection. This theme also emphasises the importance of gender diversity in driving innovation and creativity.

Research has shown that diverse teams with different perspectives and experiences are more innovative and productive. By promoting gender diversity and encouraging more women to participate in IP-related fields, we can foster greater innovation and creativity, leading to better outcomes for society as a whole.

The role of women in innovation and creativity is increasingly being recognised and celebrated in the intellectual property (IP) community. Women are making significant contributions in various fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Fintech, and are creating new solutions to global challenges through innovation and creativity.

What is your life mantra?
Be kind, grateful, humble and have trust in God’s plan for my life as I work towards personal growth and making positive impact on the world around me.