[EDITORIAL] Coronavirus Innovation From Nigeria And The Reward System

It is almost unbelievable that so far Nigerians have delivered over 192 innovations to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, beating South Africa, a much more developed economy with 90 innovations. But fears have been expressed that the genius by the Nigerian innovators may go unrecognized and unrewarded because of the country’s flawed reward system as seen in weak intellectual property rights laws that includes laws relating to patents, copyrights and trademarks.

Intellectual property is simply the creation of the human mind. It is the intangible property of human creation. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.

The news broke late last week that Nigerians are leading the brave pack of countries on the continent that are turning to the power of inventions to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, standing out with  192 unique innovations, while South Africa followed with 90.

While these innovations have caught global attention for their uniqueness, there are fears that the inventors may not receive due credits for their outstanding contributions to saving humanity, from the clutches of the coronavirus. This is because of weak or absent legislation to protect innovators.

“One of the things COVID-19 has done is to underscore the importance of innovation in societies that have been viewed as lacking the intellectual capacity to deploy innovation,” said Professor Ruth L Okediji of Harvard Law School. “Many innovations in Africa lack the protection necessary to make business models scalable and meaningful.”

The relevant or extant laws in this regard are the three main statutes governing the intellectual property Law in Nigeria namely, the Copyright Act, the Patents and Designs Act, and the Trademarks Act.

But despite the operation of these acts, large scale infringements remain in the form of piracy, counterfeiting, unauthorized/unlicensed use and unfair competition. ‘These activities violate the proprietary rights of IP owners to reap the benefits of their inventions and hence, hamper the growth and development of intellectualism, innovation and the entire creative industry’.

According to a paper published by mondaq.com and authored by Femi Olubanwo and Oluwatoba Oguntuase of  Banwo & Ighodalo Chambers, Infringement of IP rights also has negative implications on the overall economy as it obstructs genuine investments by both domestic and foreign investors, hinders job creation and causes loss of tax revenues to the government. Socially, widespread IP violations corrupt the cultural values and batter the national image of a country.

According to the source, copyright violation is one of the major challenges to IP rights and development in Nigeria and these infringements are more prevalent in book publishing industry where pirates abound; in information and communications technology in the form of internet and software piracy and; and in film and entertainment in the form of musical and cinematography disc piracy). Citing a 2012 study, it notes piracy rates in Nigeria was 80 percent and above between 2007 and 2012.

Given this kind of environment, government should step in and give bite to these laws by punishing offenders. This can work with an effective monitoring system and the effectively co-opting the artistic guilds towards identifying original work and apprehending culprits. With such a responsive system fully in place, innovators like the 192 who responded to the pandemic will not go unrewarded.

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