African Currencies: Intellectual Property Rights and State Sovereignty

“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.

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5 thoughts on “African Currencies: Intellectual Property Rights and State Sovereignty

  1. The bank notes are “patented”? Sigh – we have a long way to go. They can’t control their IP unless and until they understand it.

  2. That’s an interesting point of view. I have always looked at the IP in currency from the duplication or exploitation point of view but not in terms of it’s ownership.
    However, I believe that government contracts come with the standard condition that
    all rights accruing in the end product shall vest in the Republic.
    But the Nigerian scenario serves as a wake up call to ensure that the rights unequivocally vest in the republic.

  3. Pingback: Good Reads: Weekly Review of Intellectual Property News from Africa and Beyond « Centre for IP & ICT Law Blog

  4. I was always frustrated when engaging with the doyens at treasury with regard to tax rebates and/or excemptions particularly with copyright and copyright related industries.Despite comparative studies conducted in developing and/or developed countries and figures such as 6% of GDP offering realistic and exponential job opportunities to the youth,they simply could not or did not want to comprehend the same.My credo was ..’connect the dots’ creativity spurs innovation which in turn inspires industry and creates jobs.I look at the above post and feel like dashing to treasury and saying to them connect the dots maybe they will pay attention because it relates to something very dear to then;MONEY/BANK NOTES.

  5. Very insightful piece. IP rights are usually taken for granted and the sad thing is that govts don’t seem to learn or want to learn. Officials seem to care more about cost, kickbacks, delivery and custody of final products while forgetting ownership of IP. Tragic.

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