We had the chance to speak with Amala Umeike, founding partner of the Lagos based law firm, Stren & Blan Partners, about his firm, his background and IP in Nigeria.
RH – In IP terms where is your firm’s focus?
AU – Most of it involves the protection of international brands in Nigeria.
RH – As you have been involved in IP for a while, I think it would be interesting if you could give us an outline what has changed in Nigeria in terms of IP protection.
AU – In terms of protection rights, what we are seeing is that international brands are now going beyond just filing and registering marks, to actually policing and protecting their brands. We are seeing more infringement and anti-counterfeiting actions by these brand holders in my country, which let’s be frank, has historically has a problem with counterfeiting and with infringement. This is changing.
RH – How so?
AU – Here is one example. Until recently, it was easy in Nigeria to set up a company using the name of a well-known international company. So if, for illustration purposes, there existed an international sportswear brand called Ladidas Sportswear International, (LSI) you might see a company formed in Nigeria called Ladidas Sportswear Nigeria . Now LSI and other international companies will typically not have a company formed in Nigeria but they will have one/several registered trademarks. So, you used to see a lot of companies like Tesco Supermarket Nigeria Ltd, or Gucci Nigeria Ltd.
RH – What changed?
AU – Well, I was on a committee aided by the World Bank, that helped the Nigerian government draft a new company law, that not just prohibits infringing company names, but makes it easier for well-known brands to object to these infringing company names. So here we have company law being changed to strengthen or enhance IP law, with multiple stakeholders from both the private sector, public sector, civil service and legislators coming together to make real changes for the better.
RH – What is the general implication of this?
AU – I think it says that we are increasingly serious as a nation, and indeed as a continent, that trade is important to us. If you look at the Nigerian demographic, we are currently have a population of over 200M that is growing rapidly. It’s also a very young population, and one that is being increasingly educated to a higher level, creating greater wealth and a demand for goods and services.
This means that here are huge opportunities for international brands to tap into this market, and Africa in general especially with the emergence of the unified market across the continent thanks the African Continental Free Trade Agreement coming into effect covering 54 of the 55 nations in Africa.
My job is to make it easier for these brands to trade successfully in this emerging market, and we are making rapid advancements. That’s my passion, my focus. The message from both the private and public sectors is that Nigeria is very much open for business. Come here, do business, and you will be properly protected.
RH- Many thanks Amala