In the early 19th century, Humphry Davy pioneered electric lights. After decades, Thomas Edison improved on the earlier works of this field and filed a patent for his electric lights that use different materials for the filament. Silas Adekunle built a gaming robot that attracted a #360m investment by London Ventures. Apple sells the robotics for $300 a piece. Saheed Adepoju founded Encipher Limited, a Nigerian-based technology company that introduced the first android-powered tablet into Nigeria. In 1698, the first practical steam engine was developed by Thomas Savery after which Jerónimo de Ayanz, developed and patented a device that used steam power to propel water from mines. And from the 1780s to the 1800s, the steam engine’s functionality was dramatically improved into a double rotating steam engine used in powering several manufacturing operations, paving way for the Industrial Revolution; a prominent part of the foundation on which civilization was built upon.
Today, businesses bombard the market with new ideas, discoveries, and innovations disrupting different sectors and societal boundaries. The origin of these improved ways of doing things can be traced back to centuries because societies as early as 600 BCE realized the significance of rewarding these intangible assets which revolutionized history through intellectual property rights (IPRs) protected by laws. Where would the whole world be today if critical junctures were not leveraged by developed countries to see the dawn of prosperity@. What would have happened if these intangible assets were not turned into exclusive property rights or protected@. Leveling the importance of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) with IP (regulated by various agencies, and enactments in Nigeria such as the Patent and Design Act, Copyright Act and Trademarks Act, Ministry of Industrial, Trade and Investment, etc) will be addressed in this paper, pin-pointing several challenges that have crippled the racing limbs of SMEs hence, causing our Nigerian society to slowly leap to the finish lines of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And because of the untapped significance and compelling economic potential of SMEs to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of our country, this paper finally recommends various measures to commit to building an enabling SME sector in Nigeria.
The economic growth in countries around the world today is directly proportional to the sprout of SME activities. They possess high receptive antennae for adaptability in a dynamic business biosphere. They answer the cries of emerging frictions and economic recession in our ecosystem through job creation, production and capital boost, technological advancement, wealth redistribution, etc. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicates that SMEs in Nigeria account for 48% of our GDP, constituting about 96% of registered businesses and employ about 84% of the labor force. Examples of which include; leather production, fashion, automotive, Otigba ICT, tie and dye SME clusters in Kano, Aba, Nnewi, Lagos, Abeokuta, and Oshogbo.
In Nigeria, they are referred to as Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). SMEs are businesses with a turnover of less than N100 MM per annum and or less than 300 employees. Creative and innovative ideas are at the heart of most successful businesses. However, ideas have only little value. Just like a tiny acorn before it grows into a big oak tree, they need to be transitioned into innovative goods and services for effective commercialization to enable them to reap their economic reward. On this note, SMEs need to be well lubricated for they are the component parts that constitute the engine that drives a nation’s economy. Having a business model that wouldn’t be divorced prematurely from the market, means betrothing it in a lifetime marriage with IP law through its registration since it’s the body of laws that protect and enforce all relevant aspects of IPRs. One of the most important features of a business is the IP of the owner’s start-up. Integrating IP into the business goal serves the usefulness, relevance, and pre-eminence of the market-based economic development. IP is the rain drop that sprinkles growth moisture on a small or big enterprise. It is critical about its competence, value, funding, traction, profit, and resilience in a competitive clime. SMEs can leverage on some of these major IPRs.
Copyright: It protects the fixed expression of ideas of original musical, literary and artistic and grants exclusive right for the commercial exploitations of those works. This right is a hub in most of these enterprises. SMEs may need to register and protect such works against infringement.
Patent: This involves the protection of improvement on existing inventions or innovations that offer a new technical solution that can be capable of industrial application. SMEs that are technologically or scientifically disruptive can register their works to enjoy such protection to strategically boost their chances of success and commercialization. It lifts investor’s confidence in the potential of the enterprise in a highly competitive market, secures its life, and attracts licensing and funding partnerships for the financing of the enterprise.
Trademark: It protects distinctive colors, logos, etc., or other features a product or service is identified by consumers. It helps SMEs in building goodwill and brand value (lifeline of the business). This IP portfolio will help the growth system of the enterprise.
Industrial Design: This protects the aesthetic or outlook of a product. SMEs can protect their products from counterfeiting or other infringing acts by registering these patterns. It widens the horizon of start-ups’ potential as it can help their trademark registrations to give a stronger value.
Geographical Indications (GIs): They are rights that serves to identify a product that finds its origin, quality, reputation, or other characteristics from a specific geographical area attributed to the area. It can enhance consumer confidence and the reputation in goods and services that will help to gain higher profit. In turn, it further supports regional economic development and fights infringement.
Whilst several policies have been put in place without adequate implementation to build an enabling SME sector (such as; Executive Order 003, CAMA 2020, CBN Sandbox Operations, etc). Although, it is still worth emphasizing that most SMEs do not leverage smoothly on these safeguards. So, they end up being defeated by different factors at different levels militating against their fragility in a highly competitive market arena. These include among others: inadequate protection, promotion, and enforcement mechanisms, lack of funding, the poor awareness level of the importance of IPRs, etc. Hence, a squarely functional and mutual reinforcing recommendations that will affect all stakeholders at different levels of the society is provided below.
a. The government should embark on various financing projects that will support SMEs who have great market value potentials yet lack resources (this support may even include policymakers conducting more research into the opportunities blockchain provides across various sectors of the economy in order to create a risk-based approach to crypto regulation to assist them fund their enterprises independently like in the US). There should be easily accessible bodies saddled with the responsibility of giving business growth model, compliance, and fundraising advice, and provide pro bono legal services to SMEs.
b. Heavy institutional and regulatory reforms need to be done to accommodate SMEs by relaxing the technical compliance, tax requirements, and Policies that leverage on technological disruptions should be adopted to ease registration procedures. Adequate sanctions for infringement should be strictly enforced. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) should jealously protect SMEs’ IPs (like GIs) transcending the regional market into the global market.
c. Celebrating World IP Day is not sufficient. WIPO National offices should liaise with the government to organize different enlightenment programs for all and sundry including business owners, agencies involved in IP management, protection, and enforcement, consumers students, etc., establish and encourage innovation schools that groom young children in building inventions.
Kashyap, V. (2021) “Great Inventions that Revolutionized History” https://interestingengineering.com/19-great-inventions-that-revolutionized-history May 22, 2021 at 9:54PM
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Kashyap, V. (2021) op cit.
Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (2021) “Trade and Investment Role of SMEs in Driving Economic Recovery in Nigeria through Markets and Intellectual Property” WIPD National HM Virtual Keynote Address, https://www.proshareng.com/news/MSME%20START%20UP/Role-of-SMEs-in-Driving-Economic-Recovery-in-Nigeria-Through-Markets-and-Intellectual-Property/57016 May 15, 2021 at 10:36PM
5 Banji, O. (2020) ” SME: Issues, Challenges and Prospects” FSS International Conference, p. 2 https://www.cbn.gov.ng/fss/wed/SME_Issues%2C%20Challenges%20and%20Prospects_Oyeyinka%20Banji.pdf May 17, 2021 at 11:03 PM
Gabriel, E. (2021) “Why You Badly Need to Protect the Intellectual Property of Your Start-up” Infusion Lawyers Newsletter, https://www.infusionlawyers.com May 19, 2021 at 3:06AM
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
WIPO (2002) “Intellectual Property and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)” WIPO National Seminar, Ministry for Economic Services of Malta, prepared by The International Bureau of WIPO, https://www.wipo.com May 11, 2021 at 10:46PM
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