A patent is an exclusive right that is granted for an invention. To be classified as an invention, an inventor must have created a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. With a patent, an inventor will be granted temporary but exclusive monopoly of the commercial exploitation of their invention. This means that the inventor will have the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing the invention in the country where the patent was registered without their consent, at least for the duration of the patent.
The rights to a patent are vested in the first person to file and register the patent which further emphasizes the need for entrepreneurs to register their patents as soon as possible. It is also important for entrepreneurs to bear in mind that even if they have registered a patent in another country, they will still need to register it in Nigeria. Otherwise, they won’t be able to sue for infringement of patent within the Nigerian jurisdiction.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs which can be used to identify and distinguish goods created from one source to the other. With a trademark duly registered, the trademark owner can take legal action against anyone who uses or sells products with the trademark without their permission. In addition, the owner of the trademark can legally put the ® symbol beside their brand name to indicate that it is a registered trademark.
To enjoy the exclusive use of a trademark, entrepreneurs must take the required steps to get it registered. If a trademark is not registered, the entrepreneur will not be able to bring an action for passing off if someone uses the same mark, name or logo. It is duly important to note, however, that under Nigeria law, only accredited individuals or companies can register a trademark. Entrepreneurs therefore need to bear in mind that they will need to hire the services of accredited agents if they want to register a trademark in Nigeria.
A copyright grants the author or creator of an original work exclusive right to use and distribute it for a limited time. Copyrights do not have to be registered before an author can enjoy its protection and the author is free to transfer his or her rights to a third party. The following are covered under the umbrella of a copyright protection: Literary works, Musical works, Artistic works, Cinematograph works, Sound recording and Broadcasts. The work needs to original and be in tangible form to be eligible for copyright protection. That means ideas cannot be copyrighted, only works that have been expressed in writing, painting, musical recording and so on.
An Industrial Design is any combination of lines, colours or both and any three-dimensional form intended by the creator to be used as a model or pattern to be multiplied by industrial process and is not intended solely to obtain a technical result. By registering an industrial design, a creator protects the external shape of a product, its overall visual appearance such as the lines, shape, texture and contours. While an industrial design does not protect the technical and functional features of a product, it protects its aesthetic nature. For entrepreneurs who create fashion clothing, textile designs, furniture, toys and household products, they need to consider registering an industrial design if their product meets the requirement.
With a registered industrial design, an entrepreneur has the right to prevent anyone from copying the external design of their product within Nigeria. The industrial design right lasts for five years but it can be extended for two periods of five years each.
Entrepreneurs have trade secrets that they must protect as this is at the heart of the entrepreneurial journey. Trade secrets include information about manufacturing processes, customer lists, and product formulas or ingredients that belong to a company. To be protected, these trade secrets must be kept from the knowledge of employees, and competitors.
A trade secret also includes any valuable business information that is not generally known and is subject to reasonable efforts to preserve confidentiality. With the protection of a trade secret intellectual property right, an entrepreneur can have a competitive advantage in the market in which it operates and keep the business commercially viable. To be protected as a trade secret however, the information must be of independent economic value, actual or potential. While Nigeria currently lacks a legislation to adequately protect trade secrets, they can be protected through confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.
The registration requirements for each of the intellectual property rights stated above differ from one degree to the other. Entrepreneurs therefore need to engage the services of competent experts who will guide them through the process and indicate when the renewal of the rights are due as they are not absolute rights.