THE DIGITILIZATION OF TRADEMARK RECORDS, AN ANTICIPATORY EVOLVEMENT
The digitalization of the Nigerian Trademark Registry records has been an evolving journey. From the manual filing process to the online filing process of 2012 and the Industrial Property Automation System (IPAS) of 2014. These evolvements have been consistent in showing the eagerness for digitalization by the Registry. The manual system was occasioned by delays in processing applications and almost nonexistent record keeping. While the online system breached this gap and fast-tracked the filing process thereby creating a major overhaul. The question still bothers on the extent of this overhaul.
The first stage in processing a trademark application, search, is still conducted manually. Irrespective of filing an application online, the search must be conducted manually at the search room with index cards (paper card cut at the time of filing each trademark application in Nigeria). This process is not only mundane but has established a certain level of inconsistency over the years. As the search reports has a margin of error of about 5% because of human factor.
The defect of manual search became pronounced, during the recent lockdown in Nigeria because of COVID 19 pandemic. Several trademark applications filed online could not be processed as searches could only be conducted manually. Again, all other stages of processing the application are still conducted manually at the Registry.
Also, pursuant to Section 20 (1) & (2) of the Nigerian Trademarks Act, a notice of opposition must be filed within two months of the proposed mark publication. Where there is no opposition, Applicants are then allowed to pay for sealing fees and proceed to register their marks. This process should ordinarily be seamless; however, the lacuna of the manual system sets in yet again. The confirmation of payment receipts and other opposition checks are still conducted manually by the Registry. This has caused major delays and backlogs in the unit. The situation is worsened by inadequate number of staff at the Opposition unit.
These facts above and many more government bureaucracy stall the processing of trademark application in Nigeria.
The Way Forward
An attempt at complete digitalization of trademark records and processes in Nigeria commenced in October 2015 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In 2015, WIPO commenced capturing of data and information of manually filed trademarks. This process aided trademark maintenance, registration and recordals while reducing the need for manual file search. However, it is worthy to note that only about 70% of the previously filed/registered trademarks have been captured so far. Most paper files of the manually filed trademarks were either lost, damaged or missing, therefore could not be captured.
In light of the above, there is an urgent need to fully automate the Registry records. The Registrar of Trademarks recently confirmed that the Honorable Minister for Industry, Trade, and Investment (The supervising Ministry of the Registry) has approved the full digitalization of the Registry in the 2021 Nigerian budget.
The approval of this budget will positively enhance different segments of the Registry such as the modernization and acceleration of work process and service delivery, the increase in the credibility of documents issued by the Office, the facilitation of electronic searches, improve on the staff number and provide more assurance to parties that may be interested in investing in the Nigerian economy.