Professor Adebambo Adewopo (SAN), is a distinguished Intellectual Property (IP) Chair, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) and former Director General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). In this interview, he speaks about respect for IP rights as a strategy for economic growth, counterfeit, piracy and sundry other issues.
What is the role of Intellectual Property?
The increasing role of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) as a strategic resource for economic growth has continued in its ever-growing significance to the core values of human enterprise and development goals. The opportunities and challenges of the global economy can only leave an unconnected country behind. As the opportunities are opening new possibilities, the challenges are cutting new paths for future progress for the society to benefit from new ideas.
In this wise, the role of IP has been historic as it has been multidimensional. It cuts across many productive sectors of the economy and development disciplines. It promises to assist in harnessing the enormous human resources that abound everywhere and in every field of human enterprise.
In Nigeria, we often speak of the rich human resources as one of our greatest natural endowments, how does this relate to IPR?
In reality, those human resources in context should be referring to knowledge assets that are the products of creativity and innovation that constitute the hidden wealth of nations today. The main difference between the developed and less developed countries is the gap in the human resources constituted in the production of knowledge assets and the accompanying technologies that have continued to drive the engine of development and global welfare. Any kind of resources, whether human and natural, is meaningless without the knowledge to harness it for the benefit of the society. That is why human and natural resources no matter how abundant are still limited without the creative and innovative capacities to turn them into knowledge assets that are protected by the well-known mechanism of IPRs for global competitiveness.
How can developing countries like Nigeria engage, not as consumers, but as producers of knowledge assets in the emergent market place?
We have continued to see the same countries who persistently innovate with only few new entrants who attach high value to innovation maintain top spots in successive global development index. With digital technologies, the global knowledge economy has entered a renewed phase. In this phase, we are confronted with the new industries of artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, codification of payment systems, genomics and much more with far reaching implications on IPR system. The stakes get higher as the frontiers of technological innovation are pushed in leaps and bounds. IP system without doubt remains the primary policy and legal infrastructure of innovation and the singular currency of the digital economy.
IP has never been more economically and politically important than it is today, particularly in the multidimensional drive towards development. More than before, the global IP system has assumed increasing complexity which in itself calls for a better understanding of the dynamic interaction between IP systems and sustainable development goals. It is now not too far-fetched among policy makers and development experts that a considerable proportion of these lofty goals that the global community has set for itself directly impacts creativity and innovation of the people geared towards the flourishing of the society, for example, towards viable industries, improved productivity and standard of living, eradicating poverty, among other goals.
The progress of Nigeria’s development policies can be measured by her commitment to a national IP policy that would recognise the strategic importance of an IPR legal framework. The framework will address the protection and enforcement of IPRs in economic sectors, promotion of creativity and innovation, investment in research and development and encouragement of local knowledge and production at the expense of importation of counterfeit and pirated products.
Do you agree that counterfeiting and piracy are the bane of IP?
Clearly, counterfeiting and piracy have continued to destroy the fabric of the economy, especially the pharmaceutical, creative and other important sectors. Because IP system also enables access to creative and innovative products in order to ensure public welfare, whether in the form of providing access to educational materials to the teeming young population in schools or to affordable medicines or in achieving food security for both the young as well as aged.
The framework also aligns with education, health and other strategic national policies with the broader development goals of the country. These are some of the tasks a sound IP policy can deliver for a productive economy, and this is why the recent IP Symposium hosted by the Office of the International Intellectual Property and Computer Hacking Attorney Advisor, in association with key public and private sector stakeholders, is significant.
Could you please throw more light on this?
The symposium has drawn a critical mass of IP community in Nigeria to deepen awareness and advocacy on building respect for intellectual property as a national treasure, to engage, network and form alliances and IP enforcement coalition for an improved IPR environment, particularly in navigating the rapidly changing digital environment that only collaboration and cooperation can effectively manage. While the IP debate not entirely new, one of the missing elements has been effective collaboration and cooperation that is needed to drive the debate and build momentum not only for achieving reform but also to combat both the domestic and worldwide industry of counterfeiting, piracy and cybercrime.
Against the background of counterfeiting and piracy, how can the gains of Nigeria’s creative industry be secured?
Building strategic alliances within and outside the country is critical considering the global nature of digital technologies that are readily available to this formidable industry. In these alliances, we are also seeking to strengthen key institutions responsible for protecting IPR and combating counterfeiting and piracy. As the global recognition of Nigeria’s creative industries continues to ride on the wings of digital technology, the gains of that industry are best secured and sustained through strategic alliance with its counterpart in Hollywood and elsewhere. The creative industries should be able to yield better dividend for its creators, operators and economy as a whole. The same for the pharmaceutical and other corporate sectors that rely on IP system.
What are the challenges and the implications?
The challenge has been how to engineer an IP system that will perform and deliver better in concrete economic terms. With the challenge of harnessing creative and productive capacities, the main challenge, however, has been the ability to evolve appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks suitable for effective management of the creativity and innovation in those industries. These challenges have implications for optimisation of knowledge capacities in the digital economy with changing paradigms and business models.
What solutions would you suggest?
We should consider leveraging Nigeria’s productive capacities as strategic resources for economic growth. This should involve IP experts, key stakeholders, law and policy makers whose interventions are the building block for developing effective synergies for promoting and deepening respect for the culture of creativity and innovation and IP, combating counterfeiting and piracy and pushing IP reform agenda that should by now receive the needed political priority. In our shared experiences and lessons, we must therefore rise with one voice to proclaim the gospel of IP as the missing key to unlocking the hidden wealth of our country. Our sheer size and diversity, our rich biodiversity, our innate capacities and industry as a people combine to make the dream of development attainable, feasible and realistic. Our consciousness of the value and protection of creativity is our strongest asset in realising the development goals of IP system.