As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the World Intellectual Property (WIP) day focused on ‘Visionary Innovators’, experts in the field, as well as concerned stakeholders, have continued to harp on the need for intellectual property protection.
Held each year since 2001 on the 26th April by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations agency based in Geneve, the WIPO this year focused attention on the need to protect the copyrights, trademarks and patents that give creators the ownership of their work and provide the incentive to produce the innovations that move the society.
At an event put together by Hewlett Packard (HP) and Microsoft to make the WIP day, experts noted that while law enforcement plays a big role in protecting intellectual property, the decision to protect it ultimately lies with consumers, to whom it may seem a vague, academic notion. Stating that every intellectual property found around us in the form of products which make our lives more enjoyable like medicines, software programs, books and music, the experts called on consumers to always grasp the idea that these products are the creations of individuals whose rights should be respected, and in so doing, will promote intellectual property.
A 2011 study by Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) had put the total annual value of all counterfeit merchandise worldwide at nearly $800 billion and predicted it could reach $1.7 trillion by 2015.
Another report in 2009 by the same group regarding consumer attitudes on counterfeiting in 40 countries around the world said it was ‘a widely tolerated and unspoken social plague.’
This trend is especially troubling in areas of the world where respect for patents and intellectual property has to be improved, the report said.
One example is Nigeria, which according to the World Economic Forum, ranks 104th out of 142 countries in the protection of intellectual property rights. Not surprisingly, within the East Africa Community (EAC), it’s estimated that counterfeit and inferior goods cost regional governments more than $500 million annually in lost tax receipts.
HP argued that more people would respect IP and avoid counterfeits if they had a better understanding of how trademarks and copyrights drive economic innovation and enhance personal lifestyles.
Channel Development Manager, HP IPG English Africa, Mrs. Rita Amuchienwa, stated that few people talk about IP or are aware of how ingrained and important it is in our lives. “An IP-protected property is a secret ingredient which will help any modern society to flourish and thrive under the protection of comprehensive IP law.
“In addition to improving the quality of life, IP inspires others to innovate and create with the hopes that they, too, can enjoy the rewards that come from original thinking.
“Stopping the unauthorised use of IP, whether it’s pirated movies, fake handbags or counterfeit print cartridge technology tells the next generation of visionaries that their work will flourish and be respected,” she said.
Amuchienwa further stated that, “HP is committed to the protection of IP, not just in relation to HP products, but also other people’s creative works.
“A society free from counterfeit products is not of benefit to HP alone, it benefits the economy in the long run and creates a viable, sustainable environment for people to practise their craft knowing they are protected,” she said.
She added, “Imagine you are an aspiring author who has just completed his first full-length novel. After labouring on it for more than a year, you finally manage to interest a literary agent, who in turn has placed the manuscript with a publisher.
“The manuscript is now edited, the cover art chosen and publication dates set for both the print and online editions. Advance copies have been sent to reviewers and to non-professional readers alike; the response, judging from the internet posts, has been enthusiastic.
“While doing a Google search on your name, you suddenly find that your yet unpublished novel is already available for free on an illegal website where books, TV shows and just-released films can be downloaded at no cost.
“This hypothetical example shows how vulnerable intellectual property, the creator’s rightful ownership to the fruits of his or her artistic, scientific, academic or technological labour, has become,” she said.
Citing an example with HP Products, Amuchienwa said, “Just like every other property, brand names are extremely significant in today’s markets as they are a reliable indicator about a product’s quality, origin, integrity and the brand-holder’s commitment to customer satisfaction.
“Counterfeiters and perpetrators of product fraud illegally misuse the good reputation of some brand name, and benefit fraudulently from the extensive research and development resources which brand-holders have invested upon, in order to develop high-quality products, and this can be very devastating in some quarters,” she said.
HP in another paper made available to THISDAY, said it is one of the biggest owners of intellectual property, with a portfolio of over 37,000 patents.
According to HP, “Many of these are held by HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group (PPS), which manufactures not just printers and scanners but the ink and toner to supply them. Propriety HP toner and ink cartridge technology, backed by decades of research and development, has achieved an excellent reputation for quality that counterfeiters try to exploit with inferior versions camouflaged in fake packaging. HP’s anti-counterfeit program fights counterfeit supplies, which defraud customers with low-quality products.”
Speaking at the forum, former News Editor, Nigerian Television Authority, Mr Isah Momoh, said although “we may not think consciously about intellectual property, we face choices about it all the time, and it has become imperative and crucial to promote the benefits of a robust IP system and educate the society on the threats of counterfeit products”.
“The understanding of IP protection begins with a consciousness. We, as a society must begin to understand that counterfeit products destroy innovation and drive the economy down. We must push government to realise that IP is the wealth of the Nation and introduce stiffer penalties to protect it, “he said.
The Founder and Creative Director of Redstrat Limited, Mr. Chude Jideonwo, who pointed out that the role of law enforcement is critical, said that greater prosecution of IP infringement including tougher sentencing will send the right message.
Jideonwo argued that the government’s enforcement of laws regarding copyright infringement and intellectual property theft is still rather abysmal. "Until government steps up to its responsibility and provides the adequate legal framework necessary for the protection of people’s creations, we are going to continue to battle with IP theft.”
Microsoft’s Round Table
Participants drawn from different sectors of the economy cautioned Nigerians about the impact of piracy on the nations economy. Among the participants were Director of Enforcement, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), Ibadan Zonal Office, Mr Babatunde Adetula, and Managing Director, Steelcon Global Hitech, Mr George Spiff.
Others are Anti-Piracy Manager, Multichoice Nigeria, South-South, Mr Seyi Owolabi, Anti-Piracy Conversion Manger, Microsoft Anglophone West Africa Ms Ugochi Agoreyo, and Anti Piracy Lead, Microsoft West East and Central Africa, Mr Serge Ntamack.
The NCC director, vowed to explore all avenues of creating an enabling environment to protect the rights of innovators in line with its policy of zero-tolerance to piracy.
He explained, “Piracy is like a cankerworm to the nation’s economy. It is like a caterpillar that eats up the pillars of the economy. If not checked, pirated software, pirated books and broadcasting would damage the Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that are involved in property innovation and development.”
Also speaking, Ntamack who called for the creation of stronger and sound IP policies in the country, said counterfeiting only thrives in places with weak or non-existent IP laws.
"Unfortunately for many innovators, piracy deters their success and can discourage development. In Africa, the effects are particularly damaging to emerging economies, to small businesses and to individuals," he said.
On her part, Agoreyo said behind every innovative, life-changing product or idea stands an imaginative, inspired person willing to do what it takes to see it through every stage, from concept to creation to delivery.
"As the World Intellectual Property Organisation marks its 12th annual WIP day by focusing on 'Visionary Innovators', Microsoft Nigeria recognises the many people behind the intellectual property that has revolutionised the way we live our lives each day," she concluded.
Director-General of NCC, Mr Afam Ezekude, in his message to commemorate the WIP day, urged all stakeholders in the creative community to be active participants in the campaign against piracy, and other related crimes.
According to him, as the world appreciates teeming creators and innovative minds spread across the globe, it calls attention to those people whose innovations have not only transformed lives in diverse ways, but have also enhanced the workings and world views of the society.
He said, “This year’s theme draws peculiar attention to a lot of things, but mostly to the innovators, whose work must be protected. The Director of Enforcement, NCC, Mr Babtunde Adetula who spoke to THISDAY, said the agency would work on reviewing the present IP law to tackle the increase in property rights infringement.
He said, “We hope to ensure that people in their hearts begin to look at copyrights infringement as a true crime, not something that others will be protecting them against.
“When you go to the market to try and enforce the law, you find Nigerians siding with pirates and of intellectual properties, and attacking government agents who have come to enforce the law for their own benefits in the long run.”
Adetula said Nigerians will have to understand that whatever the government is doing, is not to deprive people from their legitimate earnings, or their livelihood, but rather to ensure that everybody does things in the legal way. She added, “nobody has said you cannot approach a right owner of a book, to use their works. The law actually provides for that. But what we see is that we find people, who rather than send a little, so that they can gain much, go ahead to do things in the darkness of the night, where they cannot be caught. That is to show that there is a criminal mind involved in the issue, and NCC will deal with it”.
On the amount of money to be paid to right owner, Adetula said he cannot specifically state the amount of money that should be paid for piracy.
“I know that whatever is stolen must be taken along with the value of the stolen property. Imposing a fine is at the discretion of the court, because when you go to court, you give a statement on the damage that has been done to your property or business, and the court takes it from there.”
He added “I want to use this opportunity to encourage right owners, that they should as much as possible, try not to leave everything to the government, because all we can do is the persecution, but they, right owners, are the ones who can and must make more input”.