Building A Solid Intellectual Property Foundation For Startups In Nigeria

Intellectual property (IP) includes valuable tangible or intangible intellectual creations of individuals such as concepts, brands and inventions that give the owners certain exclusive rights. These rights are called IP rights (IPR). Protecting IP rights is crucial for businesses, both large companies and startups. Intellectual Property Laws in Nigeria are enacted to regulate and protect all aspects of IP rights.

The Intellectual Property of startup companies are their most valuable assets in a competitive market. Their products and services in the market not only generates revenue for them but also gives them a competitive advantage, market visibility and attracts investors. Achieving market leverage will be very difficult if startups do not secure their IPs by registration and licencing.

In Nigeria, the various forms of IP rights that can be protected include; trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets:

  1. Trademarks: A trademark is the identity of any business. It stands a company out through customer recognition. Registering trademarks safeguards a startup’s brand identity, logos, and slogans, preventing others from using similar marks that may cause confusion among consumers. A registered trademark gives the startup owner right to an action for any infringement with its trademark. Under the Trademarks Act, the trademark has to be registered with the Trademarks Registry. A registered trademark is valid for 7 years but can be renewed from time to time for 14 years under the Trademark Act.
  • Copyrights: Copyright is the automatic and exclusive right of the owner of a creative work. Thus, it is not subject to mandatory registration. It is only required that efforts have been expended to make the creative work be original and must have been fixed to a definite medium of expression. Copyright protection extends to original literary, artistic, and musical works, as well as innovative computer software and programmes. It grants creators exclusive rights over their creations, including reproduction, distribution, and public display.
  • Patents and Designs: A patent is a unique invention or technological solution (hardware or software) developed by a startup. Not all inventions are patentable inventions however. The Patent and Designs Act sets out conditions to be met for an invention to be deemed patentable: the invention must be new and capable of industrial application or the invention is an improvement on an already patented invention and is also capable of industrial application. Securing a patent provides exclusive rights and prevents others from using, selling, or importing your invention without permission. It is not compulsory to register or secure a patent; however, a patent right is vested in the first to apply for its registration. Patents last for 20 years, after which the invention becomes part of the public domain and can be used by anyone.
  • Trade Secrets: trade secrets are confidential information of a startup that may be protected if they have commercial value. Safeguarding trade secrets, such as proprietary information, manufacturing processes, or customer lists, through confidentiality agreements and robust internal security measures by a startup can be crucial in maintaining a competitive advantage. It is important that startups sign a non-disclosure or non-compete agreements with employees at workplaces, partners or contractors except on a need to know basis. Thus, where a trade secret is leaked, it will entitle the startup owner right to maintain an action in court for breach of contract or damages.

In leveraging on their IP rights (IPR), products and services of startups can be protected by a combination of intellectual property rights. For example, an invention can be protected by patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. 

Proactive Intellectual Property considerations by startups in Nigeria can help fortify and enhance their long-term business success.

Legal professional guidance is crucial for startups for their IP protection.

By Adeola Oyinlade & Co

Adeola Oyinlade & Co provides help and offers advisory to clients on IP rights that can be protected including; trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets in Nigeria.

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