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Made in Nigeria and the ease of doing business

By Eniola Leyimu
10 December 2017   |   3:31 am
The recently held GT Bank Fashion Weekend was another opportunity for Nigerian brands to showcase their products and services. Walking around the different stores, I observed marked improvements in the quality of made in Nigeria....

The recently held GT Bank Fashion Weekend was another opportunity for Nigerian brands to showcase their products and services. Walking around the different stores, I observed marked improvements in the quality of made in Nigeria goods and was filled with a sense of pride. This is especially as my return to Nigeria after studying and working as a lawyer at a renowned multinational media company in the UK, was primarily initiated by what I had learnt about brands, the power of intellectual property (IP) to drive innovation and economic growth and my determination to contribute to Nigeria’s development through campaigning for a more robust IP regime.

Coincidentally, on the same weekend, the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers in collaboration with the Interior Design Association of Nigeria hosted the African Culture and Design Festival, showcasing some of the most innovative designs of furniture I have seen anywhere in the world. Between both events, there was no shortage of good quality made in Nigeria products.

There is clearly a revival in Nigerian manufacturing and craftsmanship necessitated in part by low oil prices and volatile exchange rates. Nigerians, who would usually shop abroad, have been forced to look inwards and the increased demand for made in Nigeria goods has increased not just the supply, but the quality of the supply. The rapid improvement of made in Nigeria goods begs the question, what have we been doing all this time? Encouragingly, the discourse has also extended to government, with the executive policies recognizing the importance of Nigerian manufacturing to boosting the economy and the legislature seemingly motivated to enact legislation to facilitate made in Nigeria production. For example, it recently passed a bill to re-enact the Public Procurement Act, 2007 giving priority to locally made goods in all government procurements.

But will “Made in Nigeria” attract foreign investment? I consider and propose that the ease of business has to extend to helping Nigerian brands make it easy to protect their IP through trademark, design and patent registrations. Surely Nigerian businesses who invest considerable time, effort and capital into building a brand or that create new designs, inventive products, methods or processes should be able to protect it, and quickly too.

The World Bank in its recently released Ease of Doing Business report titled, “Doing Business 2018: Reforming to create jobs” ranked Nigeria 145th position out of 190 countries. A lot has been made of this ranking including its being an indication that Nigeria was now a safe haven for global investors. To this end, the Federal Government’s ease of doing business initiative, led by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) team must be commended. The team has sought to remove bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria and make Nigeria a progressively easier place to start and grow a business through initiatives such as the digitizing processes and reducing timeframes for company registration, reduced fees for NAFDAC registration, etc. Sustaining this progress should make Nigeria one of the more attractive destinations for business in the world.

However, if you are a made in Nigeria brand or designer and you pay a visit to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) website, there is a conspicuous absence of the trademarks, patents and designs registration process, as an area for reform.

While I agree with the many who would argue that there are more practicable reforms, such as power supply which need to be given the ultimate priority in order to truly attain a competitive and attractive business environment, I also consider the importance of positioning Nigeria to effectively take advantage of the 21st century knowledge economy, by improving the aforementioned processes.

The 21st century knowledge economy has emphasized the role of knowledge and information as the drivers of productivity and economic growth. Economies will prosper in the 21st century through the effective commercialisation of their ideas, creative works and innovations. It is IP rights which protect the creativity and innovation that goes into products and services demanded by the globalized world and it is these IP rights, which are the must have currency of the knowledge economy.

These rights are often broadly categorized into three main headers i.e. Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents. Copyright is unlike a trademark or patent where steps have to be taken to register it, for IP protection. Consequently, I am more concerned in this article on the IP rights that must be registered, as it is to these categories that PEBEC’s intervention is required.

While a trademark differentiates the products and services of one business from those of others, the patent covers a novel product or process and a registered design, covers the external shape of a product, the overall visual appearance of a product, or part of a product. Currently, the administration of these rights in Nigeria is overseen by the Trademarks, Patents and Designs Registry, an arm of the Commercial Law Department of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.

While the personnel at the trademark, design and patent registries do their best, they operate under very challenging circumstances and the processes for registration are still notoriously inefficient and slow. As a result, trademark registrations in Nigeria for example can take anything from 18 – 24 months (or more) to conclude. Comparatively, in Singapore, a trademark can be registered in eight months. In the UK this is even shorter and a trademark can be registered in five months. We can learn from Singapore, much admired for its efforts to reduce revenues outflows resulting from the purchase of foreign brands, by encouraging local innovation and creativity, through a greater role for IP protection.

Eniola Leyimu is an intellectual property lawyer at The Triumvirate Law Practice.I hope that this article will go some way in encouraging PEBEC to prioritize the reforms to the registration process for trademarks, patents and design in Nigeria in its ease of doing business reforms. We must remember that without an effective IP system, the commercialisation of made in Nigeria products is, if not impossible, made substantially harder. This is why the ease of doing business must extend to making the process for protection more effective.
Eniola Leyimu is an intellectual property lawyer at The Triumvirate Law Practice.