“The trademark patent right of the naira notes in circulation is owned by non-Nigerians, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has revealed.”
That is the opening line of today’s article in a local daily in Nigeria “Leadership” in an article titled: “Foreigners Own Naira Patent – Central Bank of Nigeria”. As many may already know, the Naira is Nigeria’s currency therefore its understandable why this heading and the opening line above were so painful to read. But IPKenya has gotten used to this: several months ago, IPKenya noted that the Minister of Finance here in Kenya made the same mistake while being grilled by a Parliamentary Sub-Committee on a 3 billion shilling currency printing scandal with British firm De La Rue.
It is clear that Kenya and Nigeria have a bigger problem than merely government officials who lack understanding of basic intellectual property. What is worrying is the nature of agreements that our Central Banks are entering into with foreign entities with regard to production of national legal tender. In this connection, it is apparent that not enough consideration is being given to ownership of the copyright and related rights in the bank notes right from conception, all the way to printing. Both governments appear to be outsourcing the entire currency printing operation without making any reservations on ownership of resulting intellectual property, commissioned using tax-payers’ money.
This fact is evidently clear when the CBN Director of Corporate Communications, Mr Ugochukwu Okoroafor is reported as saying: “it was quite shocking to us when we discovered that the patent rights of some of our notes are owned by non-Nigerians…It is dangerous for us as a nation because they can hold us at the neck with it.”
Therefore while IPKenya agrees with that safe-guarding Nigeria’s sovereignty may be a good rationale for redesigning its notes, the real problem lies in the nature of agreements the country enters into with respect to currency design and printing. Although most African countries may not have the technological capacity to design and reproduce state-of-the-art high quality bank notes, the government ministries responsible for procuring the services of foreign companies must also engage relevant IP experts to ensure that all intellectual property rights pertaining to the notes are assigned and not merely licensed.