Protecting Your Intellectual Property Right as A Startup or a Small Business Owner

Article Written By Fred Oyetayo.

 As a startup or a small business owner, there are many things to worry about. From getting investors to believe in your idea to building an effective team to turn your idea into reality. But most entrepreneurs are always buried in the fantasy of getting quick funds and they often neglect to protect their intellectual property rights.

What is intellectual Property? Summed up, it is a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc. The World Intellectual Property Organization defined intellectual property as the creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual Property is the broad term used for rights such as Patents, Designs, Trademark and Copyright. It is when these ideas are used without permission of the right owner, that the owner can suffer injuries such as revenue losses. The exponential growth of the internet has also increased the chance for intellectual property theft. Companies of all sizes are at risk of having their unique ideas, products or services infringed upon, even if they are on the other side of the world, making intellectual property protection more important than ever.
Nigeria has a legal regime for the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) rights. These are embodied in the Copyright Act, Cap C28 LFN, Trademarks Act 1965 and the patents and Designs Act, 1970. These Laws provide for protectable works, the exclusive rights of the proprietor and acts that constitute infringement. They further provide the remedies available to the right owner against infringers and the court that has jurisdiction to adjudicate over IP disputes.
It is highly necessary to safeguard your intellectual property rights. Entrepreneurs especially in developing economies are not even abreast of the intellectual property rights that accrue to them from products of their creativity. Intellectual property rights are similar to other property rights and they allow the owners to benefit from their invention or work. The owners can exploit these rights by using them or commercializing them through licensing, assignment, franchising etc. to third parties, in consideration for royalties.

Statutorily, four types of IP rights are recognized and protected in Nigeria namely namely trade mark, copyright, patent and designs. However, common law remedies still avail IP rights owners in the form of passing off and confidential information.

Statutorily, four types of IP rights are recognized and protected in Nigeria namely  trade mark, copyright, patent and designs. However, common law remedies still avail IP rights owners in the form of passing off and confidential information.

1.    Trademark - A trademark is a distinctive sign that identifies certain goods or services produced or provided by an individual or a company.  It also refers to a kind of mark which the user of your product can easily identify your brand with. An example is the contour shape and size of a bottle can easily be attributable to Coca Cola. Another example is hp which is easily attributable to Hewlett Packard. Also a bitten apple sign refers to an Apple logo. Trademarks may be one or a combination of words, letters and numerals. They may consist of drawings, symbols or three- dimensional signs, such as the shape and packaging of goods. Generally, trademarks are used by merchants to identify their goods in the course of trade. They also indicate the origin and quality of goods are used for.

2.   Copyright - Copyright laws grant authors, artists and other creators of literary, musical, artistic, cinematographic works protection from unauthorized copying, reproduction, adaptation, translation etc. It also protects sound recordings and broadcasts. Although copyrights do not actually protect an idea itself, they protect the way it has been represented - for example if it has been written down, or recorded on video.

3.   Patent - A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention – a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem.  A patent provides patent owners with protection for their inventions. Protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.

    4.  Industrial Designs - An industrial design refers to the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of an article. A design consists of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color. It must be intended by the creator to be used as a model or pattern to be multiplied by industrial process and must not be aimed at solely obtaining technical result.
With the basic understanding of what Intellectual property entails, here are the reasons why as a startup or a small business owner, you should protect your rights.

  1.   Protecting your intellectual property rights will show likely investors how serious you are. An investor will be more interested in you and pay more attention to your idea. The reason is simple, for you to even try to protect your rights, it goes a long way to show that you believe that your idea is sellable.
  2.  It Protects the Growth of your business – As a small business owner, it is very essential to protect any unique products or services that you own as competitors can use your success to take away market share, resulting in slow growth or loss of revenue. Losing market share early on in a business’s development can be devastating and time consuming if trying to chase up the guilty party without any legal protection. It’s important to remember that no one else will check to see if your intellectual property has been infringed; it’s your responsibility to ensure that no one else is using your assets.
  3.  Save Yourself Future Litigation cost – so you believe registering your rights are expensive? Why not wait for litigation? Registering your rights at the early stage is much more cost effective than trying to enforce your rights via litigation in the future. Once you have an idea worth protecting, contact an IP lawyer and have your rights registered.
  4.  It is easier to register your Intellectual Property than you think - it may seem initially daunting or time consuming, but protecting yourself is well worth the time and effort and isn’t as difficult as you may think.  You can start the registration process and continue with your normal activity be handling it over to your IP lawyer.
  5. It is also cheaper than you think – most small business owners are always scared of approaching lawyers. In fact, they are always scared of spending. Registering your intellectual property is actually cheaper than you can imagine. You can contact any IP lawyer for more information.
  6. Your Rights can be used as security for loans – oh Yes, you read it right. Your intellectual property rights can be used as a collateral so secure loans in banks. You can contact your bank for more enquires.
  7.  Form an essential part of your marketing or branding – Just imagine your logo with the TM sign. You can use it as bragging right to show your competitors that you have an edge over them. Moreover, it gives your clients/customer some sort of confidence knowing fully well that you understand the business well. You can always showcase it on different platforms and media.
  8.  Earn Royalties by licensing it – Do you know YouTube pays a verified partner to have adverts running on their uploaded YouTube videos? Most musicians in Nigeria and across the world earn thousands of dollars via their YouTube page. But in other to enforce your rights, you have to register it first.

In peroration, the protection of your right is very essential in this 21st century. The world is a global village and is becoming more of a community. It is very easy to infringe on rights than ever before all thanks to the internet. Someone somewhere is always watching and is ready to still that wonderful idea you have. Be smart, protect your Intellectual Property Right.

Fred is a Lawyer and can be reached via

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