Nigeria: The Struggle To Protect Patents In Africa

Last Updated: 2 September 2018
Article by Vitor Palmela Fidalgo

Contrary to real estate, intellectual property is more democratic; you do not need an amount of capital or goods to generate more capital. You just need your brain and some creativity. Of course, this romantic idea is thwarted by the huge amount of money which is spent every year on R&D. However, there are several "Eggs of Columbus" to be discovered all around the world.

Nonetheless, to obtain intellectual property as a patent, it is not just to invent something: a good business environment and a suitable, reliable and enforceable legal system are necessary

The current problem in Africa comes from the fact that, despite all the efforts made by stakeholders and from major multinationals to tiny companies (or inventors), protecting a patent does not pay off and/or can be useless

Excessive red tape and the lack of available information are among the factors involved. However, the main issue involves the flaws in the legal system and this is what we will address in this article.

Here are, as far as we are concerned, the main legal questions in Africa:

1. Outdated laws

Despite the harmonization brought about by the Trips Agreement, most of the African countries still apply their outdated legislation. For instance, whereas a patent is valid for 20 years in Germany, France or The United States, in Angola, Ethiopia, Gambia, or Madagascar the validity is 15 years. In some cases it is even less, as is the case for Tanzania and Namibia.

It is worth pointing out that the patent term aims to give the patent holder enough time to capitalize on their investment and to promote the investment in more research. If for some inventions 10 or 15 years is enough time to profit, for others, such as pharmaceuticals patents, 20 years is often very short, considering the time that they must spend introducing the drugs on the market

Furthermore, some patent laws limit the granting of chemical patents, as is the case in Egypt, when only the process is patented. For these type of patents, the term is solely 10 years.

Finally, another example is the substantive examination of patents which is not mandatory in some countries, such as Nigeria, forcing the stakeholders to be aware of any existing patent publication, since all the applications, in principle, will be granted.

2. The alleged public interest

By invoking the public interest, governments are able to break patents and grant compulsory licenses. Under the guise of this legal tool, sometimes governments favor local companies to the detriment of foreigner patent owners. The public interest is used as an excuse to rip off legitimate intellectual property rights holders.

3. Lack of enforceability

This problem manifests itself in several ways, namely in the systemic backlog that affects the granting of the patent and the lack of expertise of the courts to deal with IP matters, which is further aggravated by the above-mentioned outdated laws.

In this sense, it is important to stress that even new legislation will not solve this problem. For this particular problem, the principal issue has more to do with inadequate enforcement rather than the legislation itself.

Possible preventative solutions

Needless to say, this scenario makes it very difficult to enforce patents in Africa. However, there is always something that can be done in order to mitigate the harmful effects.

Not protecting your invention is not an option at all. Regardless of all the hurdles and the ineffectiveness of the legal system, without protection there is nothing. All the competitors will be able to work the invention without any constraint and the patent holder will not have a legal title even if it is only to negotiate with infringers.

Moreover, as for the relevant pharmaceutical patents, sometimes it is better to negotiate licenses. This approach will avoid unfair public measures against the patent, drive out competitors and enable the patentee to monetize the IP right, even gaining fewer royalties.

A constant patent surveillance is another advisable option. The behaviour of some companies is well known, which after a "freedom to operate" search, decide to invest and develop in Africa a product which is patented in Europe or The United States.

A final point to consider is that cease and desist letters are always a good tool. The effectiveness of the letter will depend on the particular case and the nature of the entity receiving it. However, considering our experience, we believe that for most of the cases it is very effective. Actually, seeking redress through the courts court in some African jurisdictions should be the last resort.

Originally published by The Patent Lawyer.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions