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HomeWorld NewsGovernment must stop intellectual property theft — Babatunde

Government must stop intellectual property theft — Babatunde

Mr. Layi Babatunde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is the Editor-in-Chief of Supreme Court Reports published by Lawbreed Ltd. since 1999. He speaks to RAMON OLADIMEJI on the place of law report in legal practice and the challenges he commonly encounters in delivering his mandate, among other issues

The Nigerian economy has been in recession, government is making spirited efforts to get the economy back on track; from a lawyer’s perspective, what are some of the issues that need to be addressed for government to achieve its aim of reviving the economy?

Well, I am not an economist obviously but as held by the Supreme Court, Law practice is itself a business. As a legal practitioner in practice and as somebody who is involved in the business of publishing law reports and other practice books, generally speaking, the economy, as reported by government, no doubt, has found itself in deep waters and we are all victims, we are feeling the pangs. And it will take a lot of work, a lot of innovative thinking to get us out of this mess. But there are certain things we can also look at beyond throwing money at the problem. Of course, as it has been said, we need to spend heavily on infrastructure, massive construction and the likes so that we can reflate the economy, which are fine, but government will have to create the right environment for business to thrive. I will give you a few examples of things that we need to look at and will not cost the moon.

In any part of the world, people that create a lot of employment opportunities or create a lot of wealth, if you like, cumulatively, are the small and medium-scale business players or owners. In our environment, you want to ask, what is the level of protection that such businesses enjoy? What is the legal framework beyond going to register a business name? What is the legal framework for ensuring that those kind of businesses thrive? Take publishing for instance. One of your colleagues only recently published a book, Against the Run of Play, and a few days after its release, there was already complaint out there that the electronic copy had been hacked into and the book is now generally available, free! Now, this is intellectual property theft. And you want to ask yourself, when someone has invested so much resources, so much energy, intellectual capital, finance, sometimes borrowed capital, risk of travelling to conduct interviews, working with so many people to put such work together and in the twinkle of an eye somebody pirates the work simply with a stick or by some other applications, unlawfully takes away such an asset and redistributes with it little or no consequences! Meanwhile this is an asset that if properly managed will not only create a cycle of employment, legitimate wealth and but also generate revenue for government through taxation! By our indifference, most of that is lost and the publisher is more or less on his own to lick his wound. The irony is that, sometimes just as the tax man is chasing him, his creditors are too! In-between both are crooks reaping where they did not sow. In order to protect such assets, that not only create wealth now but in the future, government, through legislation and effective enforcement, must put in place appropriate remedial process, strong and effective enough to deter intellectual property theft; because if people can get away with such a heinous crime so easily in any economy, then you’ve already killed intellectual property growth which is a good source of revenue anywhere in the world. The government, therefore, should look the way of IP very seriously. And I can assure you that if ideas and inventions blossom, people can make a lot of decent living and the government will in turn make a lot of money from tax. And it brings about investors’ confidence in such an environment.

There are deviants everywhere. What stops deviants or keep them in check is the certainty that the law will catch up with them. So, we need to look at that legal regime. It’s important. By the way, investing in infrastructure without investment in complimentary human capital, leaves dangerous gaps.

From what you have said, the problem of intellectual property theft is big in Nigeria. Is it a question of inadequate laws or inadequate enforcement of the laws?

Both. Our laws, in my view, are a bit archaic and I can’t see any IP policy in place. There are some economies today where there are laws made to protect small and medium-scale businesses, specifically to allow such businesses to grow. Data and intellectual property theft, for instance, is a very serious crime and the law will come down very heavily on you where you cross the line. And that becomes a deterrent. Intellectual property basically starts as an idea, which you took time and resources to develop. So, why will you spend your time, energy and resources to develop it knowing that in the twinkle of an eye, when it is out, it is lost? Such a scenario becomes anti-intellectual, it become anti-thinking, anti-growth and breeds poverty in the economy. It breeds unemployment. The other time, the founder of Facebook was here and people were very happy, if there was no enabling environment in his home country, will he be what he is? And there are several prospective founders of bigger media than Facebook in our country. So, we need to look very closely, when you pass the law, you must continually update them to meet with current challenges. The manner in which intellectual property theft will take place in 2015 is probably more advanced now in 2017. So, we must have a quick response mechanism to match the level or growth rate that we expect in our economy.

On the other hand, the issue of curbing multiple taxation is one area in which government has tried to intervene decisively but yet with limited success. The time that the business owners should spend generating ideas, they are spending trying to deal with harassment by unscrupulous tax officers manning illegal roadblocks on highways, waylaying trucks conveying goods with spiked wood or metal on bad roads! These things are disincentives for growth. And I think we need to have a change of attitude because the law is there but the enforcement is weak. When people get choked like this, they will not be able to contribute to the growth of the economy. The Joint Tax Board has harmonised taxes and the Federal Executive Council, as far as 2014, spoke against it, everything is spelt out in black and white but people are still going out to the field to do the exact opposite day-by-day and they seem to be getting away with it.

Are there robust opportunities in the area of intellectual property for lawyers and if there are, are lawyers aware and taking advantage of such opportunities?

Well, I believe that the opportunities are enormous for lawyers and non-lawyers if government will brace up and tap the enormous potentials in this area. First of all, the opportunity has to be there for the Nigerian people generally, before it even gets to lawyers in particular. Lawyers only assist them to put in place proper paper work for the protection of what they have done. But first of all, it is when ideas bloom from those who are interested in inventions, in ideas, in writing, in publication and so on, that lawyers have something to do in terms of patents, copyright and the like. And ideas will bloom including indigenous technology, medicine etc. if there is an enabling environment. It is when the society is developing and the people have the opportunities, that lawyers themselves can be properly engaged. When we create that atmosphere for intellectual capital to grow and blossom, the economy will be more enriched. A good starting point is to pass all the pending IP-related laws pending before the National Assembly and develop a clear roadmap for IP. Conversely, if we don’t, we give poverty more mileage both in the rural areas and in the city. If Intellectual capital is given its pride of place, Nigeria will do well economically and everyone, including lawyers, will benefit.

Your company is the official law reporter of the Supreme Court judgments, what is the place of law report in legal practice?

Law report is particularly key to advocacy and to law practice generally. It is key because it chronicles what the courts have decided over time and what they are still deciding now. Such decisions are precedents. So, if you want to know the mind of the court on any subject, including legislation, the first thing for you to do is to look at what they have decided in the past. So, it is possible for a lawyer who is well guided and properly understands the judgment of the court as reported in the law reports, to be able to say, ‘look, Mr. X, from all these stories that you have told me, I can assure you that when this type of matter came up before, this was how the Supreme Court decided it and since that time they haven’t changed their decision, and I have not seen anything different from what you have told me. This may be the outcome of your case’. So, the law report, a good one though, is a very good guide because it gives knowledge of what has happened before in the court and is a good guide to what may happen in the future if the facts and the law are similar.

It is difficult to see how any lawyer can properly advise his client or be of help to the court or his client without a good knowledge of case law as reported by credible law reports. I say credible because, there is a difference between professional law reporting and commercial law reporting.

 I know there are a number of law reports, yours is one of them. So, what’s the main focus of Lawbreed?

We publish only Supreme Court judgments and with all sense of modesty, we pride ourselves as being professional in what we do. As you may be aware, the Supreme Court judgment publication started in 1972. It used to be edited by Supreme Court Justices, it was in 1999 that they were kind enough to cede it to us and I became the Editor-in-Chief. In fact, in 1988, the law report went off the shelf. So, between July 1988 and 1999 when we took over, the SC report was completely off the shelf but we revived it and published all the previous editions and it is currently up-to-date. The reprints were also done. And we remain grateful to the Supreme Court for reposing that kind of confidence in us.

There is an argument among lawyers that over time the quality of judgments coming from the Supreme Court has declined; what’s your opinion about this?

What do you mean quality? A judgment is not like fashion or fabric. So, I wouldn’t know what you mean by quality. It has been said by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria that cases are like faces, they may look alike, they are never the same.

What are some of the common challenges you face in law report publishing and how are you manoeuvring, especially in this period of general economic downturn?

Publishing is a process. From the raw judgment or ideas collection stage to processing it, to editing or writing it and having it in your hands, you must be committed to succeed. You have to deal with your software and hardware infrastructures. Majority of these things are imported and we are all aware of the fluctuation in the value of our currency, but despite the fact that exchange rate has hit the roof, we have not increased the cover price of the law report. The interest we have is that we must continue to do a professional job befitting of our highest court. So, we take these challenges in their strides. Sometimes a simple thing as buying toners for your computers may become a serious issue because of refill syndrome! You bought software, only to find out that it is a pirated software or the so-called IT professional you trusted is a quack after all! Sometimes, even the ink for printing, can compromise an otherwise good job. A law report is supposed to have a shelf life; so, if the production is looking poorly, we write it off. In fact, I have burnt a complete edition before. Distribution logistics is a common problem to business in Nigeria due to poor transport infrastructure. The cover price of S.C. Report is N2,000 but we are sometimes charged over a quarter of that to deliver a copy; so, we have to put our own vehicles on the road on occasions, with attendant challenges as mentioned earlier. Besides government will do well to bring back, in a modernised way, the Trade Schools/Colleges so that businesses can have more skilled manpower to engage. If we delay for too long, foreigners will fill this gap as well. Above all these, we love what we are doing, equipping our colleagues for greater success! The satisfaction derived is unstoppable. The grace of God, gratitude and support of our colleagues keep us going.

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