Intellectual Property Rights Protection in Nigeria
[Photo by Ola Dapo from Pexels]

Intellectual property (“IP”) education has never been more important than of recent. The creative economy industries, according to United Nations (“UN”) estimates,[1] generate annual revenues of over $2 trillion, global exports of over $250 billion, and account for nearly 30 million jobs worldwide. It is further estimated that the industries will represent around 10% of global GDP in years to come.[2] The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (“CBN”), Godwin Emefiele, also, stated that the creative industry generated a revenue of about $4.5 billion in the country while speaking at the ARISE Fashion Show 2021 held in Dubai. The financial, economic and other incentives provided by IP, therefore, make it imperative for creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs to know what to protect, as well as when, and how to protect them.

IP, according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (“WIPO”), refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Your IP is a set of intangible assets that provide incentives for you and your organisation to develop and pursue commercial opportunities related to it.[3]

The law protects your IP rights. There are 5 major areas of IP law that impact entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators. They include copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, patents and industrial designs. This article will educate you on these IP rights.

“But why is IP so important? And why is it becoming even more important?” Scott Wightman, the former British High Commissioner to Singapore, observed.[4] “Well whereas, in the not too distant past, the majority of business investment was in people or physical things like premises and machinery, today it’s in intangible goods, in ideas and in creativity.”


Introduction to Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, and Industrial Designs.

Copyrights protect the creation of your original ideas that are reduced into writing, music, recording, video, photograph or art.[5] Derivative works[6] from the original sources, such as adaptations of your novel, translations of your book to other languages, and other alterations of your original works are also protected. Copyrights further protect rights neighbouring to those copyrights, such as the protection of performers, producers of phonograms, and broadcasting organisations.[7]

Patents protect inventions, whether products or processes that provide, in general, a new way of doing something or offers a new technical solution to a problem.[8] Industrial designs, on the other hand, consist of two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines, or colour, or three-dimensional features, such as the shape of an article; and they are intended by their creators to be used as models or patterns to be multiplied by industrial processes and are not intended solely to obtain a technical result.[9]

Trademarks, essentially, are protected by law for their role in your business branding rather than for their creativity. Trademarks are any sign, or any combination of signs, capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.[10] Trademarks include names, words, logos, designs, shapes, slogans, symbols, letters, combinations of colours, etc. They function as “source identifiers” of goods and services, thereby protecting you as a consumer from counterfeits; while also preventing unfair competition in the relevant marketplace.


Eligibility and Protection

In 2007, European Patent Office (“EPO”) rejected Amazon's application to patent its “one-click” payment option that allowed customers to purchase goods with a single click. Not all innovations, and in fact, not all IP rights are eligible for protection.

For your original idea to be eligible for copyright protection: (1) you must have expended sufficient effort on making the idea to give it an original character; (2) and the idea must be fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to be developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of any machine or device.[11]

Copyright protection, therefore, extends only to expressions and not just ideas. Procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such are excluded from copyright protection.[12] Your computer programs,[13] whether in source or object code, are eligible for copyright protection. Your tweets, blog posts, YouTube and TikTok videos, Instagram Reels, among other digital content will be eligible for copyright protection.

Copyright protection is automatic upon the expression of your original ideas through a tangible medium. You do not need formal registration. You must note, however, that in some countries like the United States, while registration is not a condition for copyright protection, registration is a condition precedent for you to institute an action in court for your copyright infringement.[14]

Registration with the relevant authorities is a prerequisite for protecting other IP rights. If you intend to protect your trademark, patent and industrial design in Nigeria, for instance, you have to file for their registrations at the Trademarks, Patents and Designs Registry under the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. From the date of filing, generally, you enjoy the priority right over persons who may file an application for the same IP right later.

Not all trademarks are registrable and therefore protected. Registrable trademarks are required to be inherently distinctive[15] on registration or have the capability to distinguish in use.[16] Your trademark will be considered distinctive if it consists of at least: (a) your name, your company or firm name, represented in a special manner; (b) your signature or that of some predecessor in your business; (c) invented word(s); non-descriptive words; or (d) any other distinctive marks.[17]

Deceptive or scandalous designs are not registrable.[18] Trademarks identical and resembling those belonging to different proprietors and already registered are not registrable.[19] Names of chemical substances are also prohibited from registration.[20]

The EPO in its ruling against Amazon patent application, and after analysing the features of the invention, held that “they lack inventive step”. Patentable inventions must: (a) be new, resulting from inventive activity and capable of industrial application; or (b) constitute an improvement upon a patented invention and also new, resulting from inventive activity and capable of industrial application.[21]

Your invention concerning a particular art or field of knowledge which has been made available to the public anywhere and at any time (by means of a written or oral description, by use or in any other way) before the date of the filing of your patent application in respect of the invention or the foreign priority date validly claimed, is non-patentable.[22] Your invention, however, cannot be deemed to be made available to the public merely by reason of the fact that, within the period of six months preceding the filing of your patent application, you or your successor in title has exhibited it in an official or officially recognised international exhibition.[23]

Other certain inventions are excluded from patentability. Patents cannot be validly obtained in respect of plant or animal varieties, or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals (other than microbiological processes and other products).[24] Inventions, the publication or exploitation of which would be contrary to public order or morality, are also excluded from patentability.[25]

Your industrial design is registrable if: (a) it is new and; (b) it is not contrary to public order or morality.[26] Designs are not new or original if they do not significantly differ from known designs or combinations of known design features.[27] An industrial design of a drinking cup in the shape of male genitals may be prohibited from registration for being contrary to public order or morality.


Introduction to Trade Secret

The Coca-Cola Company is a famous case study for IP protection through trade secrets. The company has carefully guarded its recipe and formula for over 100 years, by choosing to protect the recipe and formula through trade secret instead of patent.[28]  

Trade secrets protection is, technically speaking, created by contractual agreements, unlike the other IP rights which are created by legislation. Your trade secrets are IP rights on confidential information which you may sell or licence.[29] To qualify as a trade secret, in general, the information must: (a) be commercially valuable because it is secret; (b) be known only to a limited group of persons; and (c) be subject to reasonable steps taken by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret, including the use of confidentiality agreements for business partners and employees.[30]

Any confidential business information which provides your business with a competitive advantage and is unknown to others may be protected as a trade secret.[31] Such information includes technical information such as information containing designs and drawings of computer programs, manufacturing processes, and pharmaceutical test data; and commercial information, such as advertising strategies, distribution methods and lists of clients and suppliers.[32]

A combination of elements, each of which by itself is in the public domain, but where the combination, which is kept secret, provides a competitive advantage, may be protected as a trade secret.[33] Formulas and recipes, financial information, source codes, software algorithms, among others, may also be protected as trade secrets.[34] Google search algorithm, developed in 1997 and regularly updated over the years, is one of the best-kept trade secrets in the world.


Territorial System and Globalisation

Gucci sued Guess at the New York Federal High Court, United States, in 2009, for counterfeiting, unfair competition and trademark infringement of the Gucci logo. In 2012, Gucci won the case. Following the judgment, Gucci proceeded to file lawsuits against Guess on the same grounds, in Italy, France, Australia, China, and with the European Union Intellectual Property office. While Australia and China ruled in favour of Gucci, the European Union general court and judgments in Milan and Paris ruled in favour of Guess.[35]

The above case shows the territorial nature of IP rights. To protect your IP right in a country, you may have to file for registration in that jurisdiction. The scope of protection conferred by your IP rights is granted by national laws which may differ significantly from one country to another. In Nigeria, for instance, your works involving an infringement of copyright in some other works are eligible for copyright protection.[36] The position is different in the United States where copyright does not extend to any part of your work in which pre-existing material has been used unlawfully.[37]

In Nigeria, also, patents are granted at the risk of the patentee without guarantee of their validity, unlike what is obtained in some other jurisdictions where a patent application is thoroughly examined before a patent is granted.[38] The implication of this Nigerian provision is that your patent is open to challenge in court where you have the onus to prove the validity of your invention.[39]

The world is, however, moving towards an international IP system. The World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS Agreement”), which is the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on IP, sets out the minimum standards of protection to be provided by each Member.[40] The TRIPS Agreement also incorporates, by reference, the compliance with the provisions of the main conventions of WIPO, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (“Berne Convention”) and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (“Paris Convention”), in their most recent versions.[41]

There are also international systems that allow you to register, manage, and protect your IP rights globally. The International Bureau of WIPO administers the below international agreements in respect of applications for international registration of your trademarks, patents, and industrial designs.

The Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks allows you to apply for your trademark protection in up to 128 countries with a single application filing and one set of fees payment. The Madrid System, accordingly, is a convenient and cost-effective solution for you to register and manage your trademark worldwide.[42]

The Patent Cooperation Treaty assists you to seek patent protection internationally for your inventions.[43] It makes provision for a single filing of an international patent application which can become a multitude of national applications.[44] The Treaty covers your application, not the actual patent, in the sense that, each designated country would have to examine your application to grant you a patent.

The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs allows you to register your industrial design by filing a single application and thereby protect your design in multiple countries with minimum formalities.[45]

The WIPO, however, does not offer a copyright registration system or a searchable copyright database. Copyright protection is obtained automatically without the need for registration or other formalities, in the majority of countries, and according to the Berne Convention.



At the centre of IP law is striking a balance between rewarding creators and innovators with the fruit of their labours; and public access to such ingenuities in creating a stronger brighter world. The law, accordingly, places some limitations on IP rights conferred on creators and innovators. These limitations include duration, fair use and compulsory licence.

One of the major reasons Coca-Cola would have opted for trade secret protection over patent is because patent right granted by the government to an inventor is limited by duration. The duration of patent life is 20 years from the date of filing, after which your invention will become available to the public.[46] Trade secret, on the other hand, can be protected for an unlimited period of time, unless it is discovered (through reverse engineering, for instance) or legally acquired by others and disclosed to the public.[47]

Disclosure is also one of the conditions for patent registration. You are required in your patent application to disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for the invention to be carried out by a person skilled in the art.[48] The fact is that Coca-Cola does not have a patent on its recipe to ensure that its secret formula remains undisclosed.[49]

In Nigeria, copyright in your work will expire 70 years after the end of the year of your demise.[50] As such, a musician will enjoy copyright protection in his songs, even 70 years after his death.

Trademark protection is hinged on actual usage, unlike other IP rights. An author retains copyright in his book even if it remains unpublished. You either use your trademark or risk losing it.[51] Registration of trademark in Nigeria is for an initial period of 7 years, after which it becomes renewable indefinitely.

Registration of your industrial design is effective in Nigeria for the first 5 years from the date of your application for registration.[52] Your design is afterwards renewable for two consecutive periods of 5 years.[53]

Fair use or fair dealing is perhaps the most significant limitation to copyright. Copyright law allows the use of your work, without your permission, for purposes of research, private use, criticism or review or the reporting of current events, subject to the condition that, if the use is public, it shall be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the title of the work and its authorship except where the work is incidentally included in a broadcast.[54]

Fair use, as an exception and a defence to copyright infringement, is broad in its application.[55] This limitation, however, is required to be confined to certain special cases which do not conflict with the normal (commercial) exploitation of your work and do not unreasonably prejudice your legitimate interest.[56] The value of the portion taken relative to your entire work is one factor the court will consider in determining fair dealing as a defence.

A compulsory licence is another limitation to your IP rights. The relevant authority in a state or the court has the power to grant compulsory licences of your copyrighted work or invention, subject to conditions aimed at protecting your legitimate interests.[57] The grant of compulsory licences seeks to avoid the creation of monopoly at the expense of the public, especially where it becomes difficult or impossible to obtain licences from a copyright owner or an inventor.

Further, as an owner of a copyrighted work, you may wish to give the public permission to use your work freely or under certain conditions. You can achieve this aim through the grant of Creative Common licences, indicated by the “(CC)” logo.[58] The grant allows the public to use your work without fear of infringement.

Moral rights in your copyrighted works, however, are perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible.[59] Moral rights conferred on you the right to be recognised as the author of your work. You can also object and seek relief in connection with any distortion or other modification in relation to your work, where such action would be prejudicial to your honour or reputation.


Infringements and Remedies

IP law vests in you, the exclusive right to control the use of your IP works by third parties. This exclusive right includes the right to authorise the use, reproduction, publication, distribution, performance, broadcasting, adaptation, translation, importation, selling, among other commercial usages. Your IP rights are intangible assets, having attributes of personal property which you can sell or licence. You can therefore seek remedies in court (both in civil and criminal proceedings) to protect your IP rights before or upon infringement.

Available remedies to your IP rights infringement include damages, injunction, account for profits, right of conversion, and delivery up. US district judge Shira Scheindlin awarded Gucci $4.7 million in damages against Guess in the trademark infringement case. The court also granted an injunction restricting Guess from using the trademark which was similar to the Gucci logo.

Action against passing off your goods as the goods of another person is also available in common law, as a remedy for the infringement of your unregistered trademark.[60]

There are also some available defences to your action for IP rights violations. These defences include fair dealing, as explained above, acquiescence as a defence against trademark violation,[61] among others.

An effective way of seeking redress for your IP right infringement is through an out-of-court settlement. You can simply send a cease-and-desist letter to a person or entity infringing on your rights, especially where the infringement is less egregious. Where the infringing activity is significant and harming your business, you may be required to take more drastic steps. One way is by entering contracts with the person or entity to resolve your IP disputes. This may include agreeing on a profit split from the proceeds of the infringement.

Nokia settled its patent infringement dispute against Apple through a combination of patent licensing agreements and business collaboration contracts.[62] Commenting on the development, the then Chief Legal Officer at Nokia, responsible for the company’s patent licencing business, Maria Varsellona, said, “It moves our relationship with Apple from being adversaries in court to business partners working for the benefit of our customers.”[63]


We now live in what has been described as the “creator economy”, driven by the Gen Z generation and the tech-savvy innovators of the Millennials.[64] IP education is therefore important for creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs of these generations to know how to protect and exploit their creations of the mind. Effective (national and international) IP systems, also, are key to the economic growth of a nation and worldwide.

In the words of Scott Wightman, “If we fail to maximise the contribution of IP and the knowledge economy to economic success and growth, then ultimately this slows the social and economic progress of our countries. At the most basic level, it means fewer sustainable jobs for our people.”

Download a PDF copy.

[1] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [“UNESCO”]. “Re|shaping cultural policies: advancing creativity for development, 2005 Convention global report, 2018” Available at:

[2] Ibid.

[3] See the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) latest edition of its report, titled “Intellectual property and the U.S. economy: Third edition” Available at:

[4] While presenting his keynote remarks at the opening of the USPTO-UKIPO Breaking Barriers: Intellectual Property and the Value for Society event. Accessed on 04/10/2022

[5] See Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 [“Copyright Act”], s. 1 (1).

[6] Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, September 9, 1886, as revised at Stockholm on July 14, 1967 828 U.N.T.S. 221, Article

[7] See TRIPS: Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Apr. 15, 1994, Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Annex 1C, 1869 U.N.T.S. 299, 33 I.L.M. 1197 (1994) [“TRIPS Agreement”], Article 14.

[8] World Intellectual Property Organisation [“WIPO”]. “Patent” Accessed on 20/09/2022

[9] See Patents and Designs Act, Cap. P2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 [“Patents and Designs Act”], s. 12.

[10] See TRIPS Agreement, Article 15.

[11] See Copyright Act, s. 1 (2)

[12] See TRIPS Agreement, Article 9;

[13] Ibid., Article 10 (1)

[14] See Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Tıtle 17 of the United States Code, ss. 408 and 411. You can also see PAUL ALLEN OCHE V. NIGERIAN BREWERIES PLC & 3 ORS. UNREPORTED SUIT NO: FHC/ABJ/CS/145/2019, RULING DELIVERED ON 25TH JUNE 2020; where the Federal High Court of Nigeria held that registration is a requirement before you can institute an action in court for copyright infringement. However, this decision has been criticised as an error in law and against judicial precedent. The matter is currently on appeal.

[15] See Trade Marks Act, Cap. T13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 [Trade Marks Act], s. 9.

[16] Ibid., s. 10.

[17] Ibid., s. 9.

[18] Ibid., s. 11.

[19] Ibid., s. 13.

[20] Ibid., s. 12.

[21] See Patents and Designs Act, s. 1 (1)

[22] Ibid., s. 1 (3)

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., s. 1 (4) (a).

[25] Ibid., s. 1 (4) (b).

[26] Ibid., s. 13 (1).

[27] Ibid., s. 13 (5); TRIPS Agreement; Article 25 (1).

[28] Tierryicah Mitchell (2011). “Shh!! It’s a Secret!: Coca-Cola’s Recipe Revealed?” Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law. Available at: Accessed on 26/09/2022

[29] WIPO. Frequently Asked Questions: Trade Secrets. Available at: Accessed on 26/09/2022

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] WIPO. Trade Secrets. Available at: Accessed on: 26/09/2022

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[36] See Copyright Act, s. 1 (4)

[37] See Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Tıtle 17 of the United States Code, s. 103 (a).

[38] See Patents and Designs Act, s. 4 (4).

[39] Onyeka Uche Ofili (2014). “Intellectual Property Rights Protection and Economic Growth: The Case of Nigeria.” European scientific Journal. European Scientific Institute.

[40] WIPO. “Overview: the TRIPS Agreement." Accessed on 20/09/2022

[41] Ibid.

[42] WIPO. “Madrid – The International Trademark System.” Accessed on 04/10/2022.

[43] WIPO. “PCT – The International Patent System.” Accessed on 04/10/2022.

[44] Kehinde Fatoba. “Intellectual Property Rights – An Overview of Nigerian Legal Framework” Available at:

[45] WIPO. “Summary of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (1925)” Accessed on 04/10/2022.

[46] See Patents and Designs Act, s. 7; TRIPS Agreement, Article 33.

[47] WIPO. Frequently Asked Questions: Trade Secrets. Available at: Accessed on 26/09/2022

[48] TRIPS Agreement, art. 29.

[49] Tierryicah Mitchell (2011). “Shh!! It’s a Secret!: Coca-Cola’s Recipe Revealed?” Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law. Available at: Accessed on 26/09/2022.

[50] See Copyright Act, First Schedule.

[51] See Trade Marks Act, s. 31; TRIPS Agreement, art. 19.

[52] See Patents and Designs Act, s. 20 (1) (a)

[53] Ibid., s. 20 (1) (b)

[54] See Copyright Act, Second Schedule.

[55] See Dr. Henning Grosse Ruse-Khan. “Fair Use, Fair Dealing and Other Open-Ended Exceptions. The Application of the 3-Step Test.” Available at:

[56] TRIPS Agreement, art. 13.

[57] See TRIPS Agreement, art. 31.

[58]See Creative Commons. “About CC Licences.” Accessed on 03/10/2022.

[59] See Copyright Act, s. 12.

[60] Trade Marks Act, s. 3.

[61] See Diamond-Works GMBS v. Bateria Slany Narodni Podnic (1972) All N.L.R. 143.

[62] Danny Palmer. “Apple and Nokia Settle Patent Licencing Lawsuit.” Accessed on 27/09/2022.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Millennial has been defined as anyone born between 1981 and 1996, and the Gen Z generation as those born from 1997 onward.