Patent and registered designs are not issues many entrepreneurs and small businesses like you take serious, and for some, it is a case of complete ignorance of what the law expects from them, and how they can use it to protect themselves.
Over the past few days, I counselled a small business owner who is a casual Foot wear designer. He was worried that his product designs were being copied and reproduced at a cheaper rate by an unregistered business. He wants to take it up legally because those who could not afford his product of
N4000 for a pair, goes to this other guy to
reproduce it at N800.
It was enough reason to be worried especially when someone is feeding from your hard work however, you have to ensure that legally, you have the right over the property you are claiming. So I ask him, 'How can you prove that this other guy is copying your designs?' he showed me a label of his registered business name on his product, and said, "I have registered this business, I was the first to come up this design."
At this point, I knew that he just like so many other entrepreneurs know much about business and their products but lack sufficient knowledge of the laws guiding as well as protecting their business or product.
When it comes to innovative products and designs, the law specified criterias that give you ownership or patent right. Some are:
Your registered business doesn't cover your intellectual property
This entrepreneur believes that his registration of a business name automatically covers that of his designs, and that placing his label on the product was enough to indicate that he owes the design. The first lesson I brought to his notice was that there are different laws guiding each. Registering your business name is different from registering your company, as well as different from registering an intellectual property.
Patent right is given to the first person to file a claim, not the first to take it to the market
When the young man said that he was the first to come up with the idea, I laughed because the Nigerian law says, '...the right to a patent in respect of an invention is vested in the statutory inventor, that is to say, the person who, whether or not he is the true inventor, is the first to file, or validly to claim a foreign priority for, a patent application in respect of the invention...' by implication, it doesn't matter who came up first with the idea or design, what the law recognises is the first person to file a claim of ownership. If you have not filed a claim of ownership of a design or invention, you can't call it yours.
Once it is made public before filing a claim, you can no longer lay claim to it.
By law, you are not expected to make an invention or design you wish to patent public before filing a claim. Making it public before filing, invalidates your claim. The man said he was going to file a claim for the designs, but unfortunately, it was already late. The design has been in the market for the past three years, so nobody can claim to owe it again. The law only allows for a period of 6 months in case you want to exhibit it officially in an internationally recognised exhibition.
In business, there are laws to protect your creativity, however you must know when and where it applies. That you were the first to come up with an idea in business doesn't give you ownership or patent right over the product. Depending on the country or region where your business is located, it is your responsibility as a business owner to get acquainted with the law to help you protect your business as well as your products from pirates.