Intellectual property can be protected by way of Registration of Copyright, Trademarks, Industrial Designs, and Patents respectively. However, as much as these registrations protect the interests of the owners, it is not final. There is a renewal clause/validity for each of these four which are not similar in any way. We will discuss them below.
Copyright generally enjoys the longest tenure of validity. The type of work will also determine the lifespan. Literary, musical, and artistic works are valid for seventy years after the end of the year in which the author dies. In the case of joint authorship, it will be seventy years from the death of the last surviving author. Where the owner is a government or body corporate, Copyright protection lapses seventy years after the end of the year in which the work was first published. A practical example is Things Fall Apart, a literary work by the Late Chinua Achebe, published in1958. The estate of Chinua Achebe continues to enjoy the Copyright in Things Fall Apart for seventy years, starting from 2013.
Cinematograph films and photographs, other forms of Copyright enjoy protection for fifty years after the end of the year in which the work was first published. This fifty-year tenure also applies to sound recordings and broadcasts.
Take note that once the years above have passed, the works are thrown into the public domain, and anybody can make use of them without an apology.
Away from Copyright, let us see the lifespan of a Registered Trademark which takes a different turn entirely. The registration of a Trademark is valid for seven years and may be renewed from time to time for a subsequent period of fourteen years. There is no limit to the number of renewals a mark may be subjected to. The Coca-Cola Trademark, one of the world’s most recognizable Trademarks predates the birth of 99% of everyone alive today. It was first registered on January 31, 1893. One can begin to imagine how many renewals it has gone through over the decades.
Next on this bucket list is Industrial Design. A registered design protects the aesthetic appearance of an article. The Patents & Designs Act allows for the registration of two different types of designs, viz: a combination of lines or colours or both, such as textile designs. For every new pattern of Ankara or lace as well as other fabrics you find in the market, someone owns the right to the design. Whether or not they are registered is a different ball game.
The second type of industrial design is the Three-Dimensional design, popularly known as 3D, such as product packaging. A common example is the Coca-Cola bottle.
A registered Industrial Design is effective for the first five years from the date of the application for registration; and on payment of the prescribed fee may be renewed for two further consecutive periods of five years. In all, an industrial design can only be valid for fifteen years (inclusive of the two renewals), after which it reverts to the public domain.
However, when an improvement is made on such a design, it can be re-presented for registration. Recall that the Coca-Cola bottle has been upgraded from time to time. Seeing the evolution of the Coca-Cola bottle below, you will discover that the plastic bottle was first introduced in 1994. With this, the goodwill of the brand is retained and consumers are continuously happy with the products.
Lastly on this bucket list is Patent. A patent is the legal rights that confer on inventors of new and useful products and processes the right to exclude others from the commercial exploitation of the invention. An invention is patentable if it is new, results from the inventive activity, and is capable of industrial application.
A patent shall expire at the end of the Twentieth year from the date of the filing of the patent application. This twenty-year is not automatic. There is a prescribed annual fee within this said twenty years. Once these twenty years elapse, the patent goes to the public domain and cannot be renewed.
One would begin to wonder why the owner of an invention should be protected for just twenty years before reverting to the public domain. The reason is simple, there should be room for improvement on every invention. At the end of such twenty years or prior, an inventor or any other person can work on an existing invention, modify the same and bring something new out of it, so long it passes the test of newness, inventive activity, and capability of industrial application, a new patent can be applied for and twenty years can start counting.
In conclusion, owners of intellectual properties should not go home and relax after registration, there are timelines and periodic requirement of compliance. Only Copyright is free from further obligations upon registration.
Consult with an Intellectual Property Attorney for proper guidance.
- Section 2, 4, and First Schedule, Copyright Act, CAP C28, LFN 2004.
- Section 23, Trade Mark Act, CAP T13, LFN 2004.
- Section 7, 20, Patents and Designs Act, CAP P2, LFN 2004.
Oluwaseyi Arowosebe Esq., a Legal Associate at GAVEL, writes from Abuja, Nigeria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter and Instagram @seyiarowosebe.