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Intellectual Property Rights in Nigeria

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Intellectual property covers an expanse of legal territory that includes copyrights, trademarks and patent law. While trademark law regulates and protects a brand identity and copyrights serves the preservation of rights to creative work such as literary or musical art, Patent law deals with safeguarding rights over scientific/ technological inventions from outright copying to knowledgeable or unknowledgeable incorporation of already patented work and even to the incorporation of such a product that is sufficiently similar to one.

In event of where the above mentioned infringement occurs, a patent owner can get legal help to stop the practice and even sue for damages. An Inventor who wishes to safeguard his work from copying may apply for a Patent.

The Patent and Designs Act of 1990 is the governing Patent law in Nigeria and prescribes if and whose product may be granted the statutory rights. S.344 of this act lays down rules that determine if a product Patented in favor of the inventor.

This law states that an invention is Patentable if:

  • It is new: Section 1 (2) of the act states that it will qualify as new when it does not form part of the state of the art. The term "state of the art" means to that field of knowledge that has been made available to the public anywhere and anytime whether by oral, written description or by public use. However this invention shall not be regarded as having been made available merely because a person exhibits to the public his own invention within a period of six months preceding the filing of a patent by another inventor. This rule is adhered to whether or not it has been exhibited in an officially recognized international exhibition.
  • Resulted from inventive activity and is capable of use in an industry.
  • Constitutes an improvement on a patented invention.

The rights to a patent are vested in the "Statutory Inventor" who is simply the first person to file and register their patent and is legally credited with being the inventor. The law however is sensitive to sharp practices or unfair scenarios that may occur as a result of this "first come, first served" system. Section 2(2) of the act enables the possibility of redress by reassigning the rights to an invention, to a person who is adjudged the true inventor whether or not he is the first to register a product.


Applications for a patent must be made to the Registrar of Patents and Copyrights. A search must first be carried out to ensure that the product has not already been patented. The importance of a search in order to avoid a possible legal backlash cannot be overstressed. The fact that nothing similar to your product is in the market is not an indication that it or something too similar hasn’t already acquired patent rights. After the search has been completed the inventor is free to go ahead and proceed with registration.

An application can than be made to the registrar and must contain

  • The applicant’s full name and address. If the applicant’s address is outside Nigeria then a service address will be admissible.
  • The description of the relevant invention along with any plans and drawings appropriate.
  • A claim that defines the particular protection or rights sought after by the applicant.
  • Such other matter as may be prescribed depending on the facts of the application.


These requirements will be accompanied by:

a. A prescribed fee

b. Where appropriate, a declaration by the true inventor requesting that he be mentioned as such in the Patent with his name and address.

c. In event of where a legal practitioner makes the application on behalf of the applicant, a signed Power of Attorney will be required.

Once awarded the Patent rights the inventor is free to exercise his rights over it as he may choose. He may if he chooses, decide to assign his proprietary rights over the invention to any person he wishes in any geographical territory. He may also upon consideration or payment, grant a Patent license to another party on terms agreeable to him.

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