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Reaping the gains of intellectual property

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Today, April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day. It is a day set aside to increase people’s awareness and understanding of intellectual property (IP). The theme for this year’s celebration is Innovation-Improving Lives.

The World Intellectual Property Day, sometimes referred to as World IP Day, is an annual and global celebration for people to learn about the role that intellectual property plays in encouraging innovation and creativity.

This unique opportunity allows people to connect with others across the globe to discuss how intellectual property contributes to the flourishing of innovations that help shape our world.

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

The World IP Day is led by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property (IP) system, which rewards creativity, stimulates innovation and contributes to economic development while safeguarding the public interest.

WIPO decided, in 2000, to designate an annual World Intellectual Property Day to address the perceived gap between IP as a business/legal concept and its relevance to people’s lives. April 26 was chosen as the date upon which the convention establishing WIPO first entered into force in 1970.

WIPO plays a key role in organising World IP Day. The activities, events and campaigns that focus on World IP Day seek to increase public understanding of what IP really means, and to demonstrate how the IP system fosters not only music, arts and entertainments, but also all products and technological innovations that help make the world better.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) works together with various government agencies, non-government organisations, community groups and individuals to hold different events and activities to promote World Intellectual Property Day each year. Activities and events may include (but are not exclusive to):

Stage concerts or other public performances centred around the World IP Day theme, with the performers delivering messages which encourage respect for creators and creativity. There also essay competitions for young people on themes relating to intellectual property, innovation, piracy, counterfeiting, and other similar issues such as seminars or free lectures in universities to build awareness of intellectual property and its benefits among students, faculty and researchers, exhibits in museums, art galleries and schools. There are then, other educational institutions, with presentations explaining the link between exhibitions, innovation and intellectual property.

Some local intellectual and copyright offices may have an open day on or around April 26 to promote World IP Day. Some educational institutions may choose World IP Day as a time to celebrate the works of a notable inventor, artist, designer, or entrepreneur and link discussions with the important role of intellectual property.

In Nigeria, like in other countries, activities have been lined up by the public and private sectors to celebrate the Day. For instance, a Lagos-based law firm is organising a breakfast roundtable discussion with the theme, “Innovating Your Way Out of a Recession”. The event brings together innovators, industry players, regulators and other relevant stakeholders to discuss Nigeria’s present economic situation through innovation.

Beyond a breakfast roundtable discussion and other activities taking place, we should not gloss over the importance of the Day. It serves to remind us that intellectual property is big business through which Nigeria can earn huge revenue as well drive her innovation story.

With the nation in recession the time to transform the nation from a traditional commodities-based and import-driven economy, to a knowledge-economy exporting expertise, talents, value-added products and tech-savvy inventions has come. But this can only be if there is immediate holistic reform of the country’s IP sector.

It is worrisome to note that Nigeria is ranked 114 out of 128 countries on the Global Innovation Index, (GII), which attempts to measure performance with respect to creativity and innovation. It is a pity that countries such as Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Senegal, Namibia, Malawi, ranked higher.

We call on the relevant agencies of government connected with intellectual property to look critically at how the intellectual property system supports innovation by attracting investment, rewarding creators and encouraging them to develop their ideas, and ensuring that their new knowledge is freely available so that tomorrow’s innovators can build on today’s new technology.

We also call for a National Intellectual Property Rights covering all forms of intellectual property in a single framework. The principles laid down in the Rights should incentivise IP owners by granting them monopoly rights. This would curb the cases of intellectual property theft often experienced.

It is heart-warming to know that there is an association called the Intellectual Property Law Association of Nigeria (“IPLAN”), which is a testament that there is awareness about the immense potential of this sector.

We, however, call for proper coordination and synergy between the activities of IPLAN and the other associations, regulators, IP owners and the entire IP community in Nigeria. This will spur the advancement of property rights resulting in proper harnessing of talents and inventions and, by extension, economic growth in the near future.

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