By Terence P. McCulley
Terence P. McCulley, United States Ambassador to Nigeria
Nigeria’s cultural patrimony includes contributions by immensely talented artists known around the world: musicians like Fela Kuti, poets like Wole Soyinka, and writers like Chinua Achebe, among others. April 26 marked World Intellectual Property Day, a day on which we recognise the contributions creative individuals and industries bring to our global community and highlight the importance of preserving their intellectual property around the world.
The theme of this year’s World IP Day, “Creativity: The Next Generation,” reminds us that, as we honor the rich creative history of Nigeria, we must continue to look for ways to encourage and foster Nigeria’s future artists, musicians, poets, and authors. Supporting this next generation will advance an already notable legacy and provide a cultural and economic platform to support their creativity.
‘Intellectual property’ is the globally recognised term we give to creations of the mind and Intellectual property rights is the label used for assigning ownership to protect human creativity. These rights are enforced through legal mechanisms – copyrights, patents and trademarks – that ensure the products we buy are genuine, and that our inventions and works are attributed appropriately.
Copyright laws encourage the creation of artistic and literary works, computer programmes and expressions of national culture. Patent laws encourage the invention of new and improved products and processes, while ensuring the freest possible public access to information regarding those new products and processes.
Trademark laws encourage the development and maintenance of high-quality products and services, and help companies to promote customer loyalty. So, intellectual property rights protect not just inventors and creators; they also protect consumers — those whose safety depends on product reliability all over the world, including in Nigeria.
Why should we care about protecting intellectual property? Consider the number of times every day you hear a new song on the radio, see a Nollywood movie, buy a trademarked product that you can be confident is produced to high standards, or use a piece of technology, like a cellular telephone, that relies on the latest patented technology.
The protection of intellectual property rights enhances a country’s development and promotes its business and artistic environments. Such protections stimulate advances that benefit the entire world – in the form of technology, medicine, and other processes. An intellectual property rights regime that effectively and efficiently addresses protections and enforcement encourages innovation and consumer and business confidence, all of which can lead to strong economic development and high-paying jobs.
We commend the Nigerian government’s commitment to improving the protection of IPR, strengthening the ability of Nigerian officials and organisations to enforce existing laws, and develop its creative industries. This includes the reform effort announced in November 2012 by the Nigerian Copyright Commission to modernise the legal and regulatory framework for copyrights in Nigeria.
These reforms will bring Nigerian copyright regulations in line with international norms. But the United States and global community remain concerned about inability to effectively enforce Nigeria’s IP laws. This lack of resources is a major obstacle to protecting IP rights in Nigeria.
It also restricts access by Nigerians to US works and innovations; the lack of enforcement to prevent infringing IP rights in the digital environment is a challenge to US companies that seek to distribute licensed, or legally protected, content in Nigeria.
In Nigeria and across Sub-Saharan Africa, the problem of fake medications is so rampant that pharmaceutical companies have had to develop methods to help combat counterfeit medicines, such as the use of a mobile telephone verification system to identify authentic drugs from fakes. A society with modern IP laws and institutions that effectively enforces these laws, however, would not have to ask its citizens to confirm the authenticity of the medications they are consuming.
To help highlight the very real threat of counterfeit and substandard medications, the U.S. Mission has partnered with the Anti-Counterfeiting Collaboration of Nigeria to promote awareness of the dangers of counterfeit medicines through a student poster campaign and a series of public service announcements broadcast on radio stations throughout the country.
We encourage the Government of Nigeria to devote additional resources to policing the sale of illicit goods. Protecting intellectual property is crucial to protecting public health and safety in countries across the globe.
The pace of new technological developments means that IP is constantly evolving and, as a result, so must the laws and regulations designed to protect these materials. These developments create new opportunities for rights holders and consumers alike, but they also open new avenues for infringers to take advantage of another’s’ creativity and innovation.
We all have the capacity to create, the right to protect that creation, and, most importantly, a responsibility to respect and adhere to IP laws. Information and communication technologies, safe medicines, and all the other innovations that form a growing part of Nigeria’s economy are only possible because of intellectual property rights.
The hopes we all have for a better future depend on those inventors and innovators who will make the world more bountiful – if their creative efforts and hard work are protected.
•McCulley is the United States Ambassador to Nigeria
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