The Commercial Law Department, Trademarks Patents and Designs Registry, Ministry of Trade and Investment of Nigeria (Afro Leo says: "gosh! what a mouthful") announced in a press release earlier this month - precisely, Monday, 09 July 2012 - that it expects to start accepting online registration of trade mark, patent and designs from 16 July 2012. Consequently, the Registry will no longer accept manual applications and bank drafts for payment as these can now be done online. The statement also talks about an online search facility for registered intellectual property (IP) rights - this little Leo's favourite - stating that that would also go live soon (Afro Leo feels that this would be exclusive to accredited agents, so not free to the public).
Interestingly, the opening paragraph of the release said: "In its commitment to providing prompt and excellent service delivery consistent with modern innovation and technology, the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, recently engaged an indigenous Technology Consultant to automate itsTrademark, Patent and Designs (TP&D) Registry. This is to ensure convenience and efficiency in its operations, as well as discourage corrupt practices, necessitated by the cumbersome nature of the old process."(Corrupt practices? Afro Leo is thinking whether they are the type reported here here here and here on the IPKat weblog or perhaps, some people were claiming to be rights-holders when they are not. Hmmm, he has no idea.)
Digressing for a moment, this little Leo is curious about the new accreditation scheme, (which sounds like customer/user registration to Afro Leo as he has seen here in South Africa), however, he does understand the idea of professional face-to-face or telephone advice from the office (Although Afro Leo doesn't get the point of accreditation in the first place) and even payment of a fee (Okay, fair enough, Afro Leo has seen something like the latter in South Africa). So, what is this accreditation all about? According to the information on the Registry's page:
"Accreditation is a mandatory process for law firms, stakeholders and potential IP practitioners that wish to act as agents. Accreditation helps to identify a legal practitioner or agent in the area of Industrial Property Registrations in Nigeria. By Being an Accredited agent of the Registry, you have an edge over other attorneys and stakeholders that are not accredited. Requests will be treated from accredited agents as a matter of priority and provided with full customer support."
"...After your accreditation form has been received, the approving officer will certify that you are qualified to act as an agent of the Registry."
To this Leo, the above infers that the Registry is almost acting like the USPTO or even IPReg by appearing to create a separate profession, despite a fused one in Nigeria. He is also aware that Kenya seems to have a similar scheme. (Slightly optimistic Afro Leo says that this is not generally a bad idea, but wishes that it can be done effectively and at least, there must be tough IP exams, not just filling a form and paying a one-off fee. As for the fee, he is not sure if it would be sustainable for whatever it was intended for. Anyway, they know what is best for them.) Taking all that in, this little Leo would like to know whether this is in accordance with the Legal Practitioners Act or with any other enabling law, and would be grateful if readers in Nigeria can comment generally on the issue.
Back to the press release, which ended with this: "In conclusion, this new project is expected to raise the profile of Nigeria in the area of Intellectual Property protection, in a way consistent with best practices across the globe. It is therefore expected that all relevant Stakeholders should ensure a quick buy-in by getting accredited using the online procedure as directed." ("Maybe, Afro IP touched hearts and minds", says Afro Leo)
So what do we learn from this? Well, at last, the Registry in Nigeria has come to the conclusion that having an online presence has its unique benefits ("at least, in their view, it would curb corrupt practices" says Afro Leo). This development is great news indeed considering last year's findings in our A-Z series; but we all know that there is no room for complacency if the office is to keep up with international best practices in IP administration. Commendable progress, excellent vision.
PS: a few suggestions from little Leo:
(a) Tighten up the website as it has an odd space below pages
(b) Upload materials in the publication section under Patents, Trade Marks and Designs (for example, see Kenya's here)
(c) Upload current legislations, regulations, practice manuals, IP case law and policies under the Laws & Policies page