The Impact of the Covid-19 Lock down Enforcement on Trademarks Practice in Nigeria.
By Okechukwu Onyekanma and Kimi Onana
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 30th March announced a lockdown in major cities due to Covid-19 pandemic. The order was further extended on 13 April 2020 for another 2 weeks and likely will be extended for a further 2 weeks. The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja being a major city and the hub of intellectual property practice in Nigeria has since been on total lock down.
State of Play
Nigeria, a developing country adopted the online filing system for trademarks and related matters in 2012. While still adopting and adjusting to this system, Applicants have found filing of trademarks difficult in this uncertain period as proper planning and preparative measures were not taken by the Registry prior to the lockdown.
Although Applicants are still able to file applications of their trademarks online during this period, unfortunately this is where it ends as the applications do not make further progress after filing. The reason being that all other aspects of the process are still conducted manually at the Registry. As such, the applications remain unattended and will remain so until the lock down has ended. Leaving Applicants in limbo as to whether their applications will proceed further and be accepted by the Registry.
Also, searches and other trademark prosecution are now impossible as these cannot be conducted online. It is inevitable that this lack of action and failure to give further insight on these situations by the Registry will bring about further backlog in an already congested Registry
Trademarks opposition proceedings are also caught up. Rule 48 of the Nigeria Trademark Regulations provides that any person may file a notice of opposition within two months from the date of the publication of the trademarks Journal. The last journal was published on 28 February 2020. As such, persons who have interests to oppose any trademark registration have until 28 April 2020 to file notices of opposition. Filing of these notices can no longer be possible during the lockdown. Though, the Registry released a notice that all opposition deadlines are extended due to the lockdown. However, this creates another problem; can the Trademark Rules can be amended by a mere notice. This will be another source of controversy in post Covid -19 era for the Registry.
Proprietors are still filing trademarks and other Intellectual property rights without knowing whether these applications will be accepted for registration. Thereby, leaving these applications vulnerable and without protection in Nigeria.
Also, the lockdown may cause a hitch on the first to file rule of Nigeria. As prior trademarks filed on an earlier date may lose priority to more recently filed trademark during examination. This will be an Examiner’s nightmare. Therefore, it has become expedient that the Registry takes steps to nip this situation in the bud and avoid the exposure of trademarks to abuse in the country. The pre online filing system era of trademarks in Nigeria was blighted by delay, backlogs, unaccountability, loss of applications and lack of proper records.
The Registry is yet to deal with the backlogs occasioned during the said era, compounding it further will be a little too much to handle. As such, the Registry should implement measures to ensure that trademark applications and prosecution are attended to albeit electronically during the lockdown to avoid chaos in post covid-19 era.