What Happens When There are no IP Laws (2)
Sounds funny right? Doesn’t it?
There is a popular joke about how in Nigeria, we never adapt to the change in the name of a product even after the producers have changed the name numerous times. That is why Nigerians still call the electricity distribution companies NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) in 2019 even after PHCN had stopped existing in 2013. In fact, people are reluctant to call the popular cab service ‘Taxify’ by its new name ‘Bolt’, months after the product has changed its name. This is the power of branding and trade names. Similarly, there is a Nigerian inclination where products are named by the most popular of them e.g. all toothpastes called CloseUp, all seasonings called Maggi, all mayonnaise called Bama, all chocolate spreads called Nutella and so on.
On the other hand, there is a general world trend about being stuck to a particular brand and using nothing else but that brand. In fact, there are Twitter and Instagram wars over which brands product is the best even when the contents are in fact the same. Examples are wars between consumers of Pepsi and Coca-cola, Fanta and Mirinda, Android and Iphone, Nike and Adidas, Benz and BMW etc. In fact, a user of a particular brand would most times use it for life and never switch.
It is interesting to note that people do not fall in love with a brand overnight and a product does not become popular overnight too. In fact, companies spend millions on corporate and product advertising, product quality, employee satisfaction and company image to build and maintain their brands or label.
Intellectual property laws come in by protecting this effort and sweat through the protection called “Trademarks” or “Service marks”. These marks are words, phrases, symbols, designs, logos or marks that distinguish a product or service from another. They constitute intellectual property as they are intangible assets but valuable works of creation anyway. While you can save your money or gold in the bank, your brand logo cannot exactly be physically saved but it also important that people do nor falsely use it as theirs. Here, intellectual property comes in to ensure that no one deceptively uses your trade or service.
Now for a second, try to imagine there was no law protecting trade or service marks. Tomorrow, you can start up your fashion company called ‘Gucci’. Of course, you know there is an already existing respected brand called Gucci that sells very expensive clothes all over the world but choose to sell yours at a cheaper price in Nigeria with lower quality. On this false name representation, you get a lot of customers and sell millions of products. Few weeks later, ten other Gucci clothing stores open and sell at even cheaper prices and ridiculously poor quality. You are angry at the insult and you of course lose customers, as Nigeria being the second poverty world capital after India would most likely go for the cheaper ones. On the other hand, people who can afford the real Gucci are disappointed at the reduction in quality without realizing that they are fakes. The result is a ruined reputation for the whole Gucci brand as a whole and a drastic reduction in their profits.
It is therefore apparent that trademark laws are necessary to protect a company’s reputation, distinguish them from their competitors and maintain the company’s value. Trademark unlike other forms of IP protection do not expire as long as they remain distinct forever. Mercedes first registered as a trademark in 1900, Pepsi-Cola in 1896 and Quaker in 1895. Over a hundred years later, these brands are still recognized and respected today. Trademark laws in fact go a step further to ensure that registered brands in the same category do not use similar names to prevent consumer confusion. Thus, local fashion brands like “Nika”, “Guccy”, “Fendy” aimed at deceiving the public are guilty of infringement.
Today, trademark infringement is fraudulently on the rise with local brands in Nigeria making inferior versions of popular brands or using similar logos of popular brands. It is so difficult to distinguish original from fake that only few stores are trusted and patronized. The extent of the danger of this act goes beyond economic implications to the original companies in the case of edible products. It could in fact cause death or serious consequence to human life where infringers replace the content of edible products and fail to use care.
In conclusion, trademark protection has proven to be one of the most important form of copyright protection and without these marks distinguishing products, the result can be catastrophic. It is therefore important for local businesses to respect the service or trademarks of existing products and instead start their own brands afresh. Similarly, new companies should duly register their marks as early as possible as trademark laws protect the first in time.
For the Research Team, IPTLCUI