Nigerian Innovators Get Connected for Research and Development

By Sunday Daniel.  November 5, 2013

ABUJA -- In a quiet room away from the heat and hustle of the Nigerian capital’s streets, a half-dozen African innovators peer into computer screens, lost in concentration as they work on making their dreams come true.

The five men and one woman are using networked computer equipment to search overseas intellectual property (IP) databases, gleaning insight into the worldwide usage of patents, trademarks and industrial designs and other IP. The Technology and Innovation Support Center, or TISC, where they work is one of many similar public-resource offices set up by governments in developing countries in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations’ specialized agency for intellectual property. The goal: Help make the international IP system accessible to as many users as possible.

Making IP accessible to all

Ididunni Annette Roberts has been using the Abuja TISC, inaugurated in Dec. 2012, in a quest to bring to market her IBY Nature Pride Black Soap. Roberts now believes that her product can be registered as an international trademark and she has submitted the soap for testing by Nigeria’s food and drug-safety unit.

“I am happy to have discovered this centre, which has given me the information I needed,” she said. “The most important thing this centre has done for me is that it gives me the confidence that what I am doing is scientific and global. I am satisfied that the product I have invented using the information from TISC, is entirely mine and not subject to being claimed by any other person under the sun,” she said.

Ibidunni Annette Roberts has used the services of the WIPO-backed TISC in Abuja, Nigeria, to develop and market her new beauty products. (Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan)

Promoting best practices

WIPO launched the TISC project in 2009. Within the context of a joint engagement with national and regional industrial property authorities, WIPO supports the TISCs by facilitating access to databases, training of trainers and local users (on-site and distance learning), providing information and training materials, supporting awareness-raising activities and disseminating best practices and experiences among TISCs.

TISCs are ordinarily hosted within national and regional patent offices, universities and academic institutions, science and research centers, local and regional technoparks, chambers of commerce or other public institutions of similar type.

The TISCs host Internet-enabled computers that access many of WIPO’s international databases of registered patents, trademarks, industrial designs and other protected matter. Another boon for these users: Access to select databases are free, where they may be fee-for-service for users in developed countries.

Free access to databases for developing countries

The goal is to help people like Edwin Nicholas Uwa and Mark Ogochukwu Abia turn their ideas into products that will boost their earnings. The pair, who are researching a dual-purpose air conditioner and refrigerator, used to spend time – and hard-earned Naira – at local cybercafés. But without the guidance offered by the staff of the Abuja TISC, the duo found themselves adrift in a sea of meaningless information.

“Since we started using TISC we have been able to download the kind of information we needed from WIPO and this has really helped us in our research work,” said Uwa. “The most exciting thing about this place is that despite the strategic information we receive from WIPO, they do not charge us a dime.”

“Before now, we used to go from one cyber café to the other without really getting any value for our money. But now, we are happy to say that TISC has provided us with the kind of information we need for our research at no cost at all,” said Abia.

Sunday Apeji is researching food and drug development from local plants known to have medicinal properties. He has already created four products he hopes to patent. (Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan)

The world will one day celebrate us

“We have been provided with fresh ideas on how to go about our research and development. Because of the information we are getting from the TISC, the world will one day celebrate us,” said Uwa.

Since its inauguration on December 4, 2012, by Nigeria’s Trade and Industries Minister, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, dozens of Nigerians have made use of the facility inside the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investments. The users are normally researchers, students and potential inventors.

The Abuja TISC staffers, like Therie Essien, also communicate with the public via dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages. “I am happy that Nigerians have really shown interest in this centre and used it to improve their lives,” Essien said.

Staffers also organize trainings for users, in hopes they can spread their knowledge further. One of the users already trained by the TISC, Ekwesilesi Nnam, is tutoring fellow Nigerians on how to develop their own products and become self-reliant in a country where unemployment runs high, especially among Nigeria’s youth.

Create innovative products, be your own boss

Users and beneficiaries can be found around Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation with 160 million people.

Each week, Sunday Apeji travels to the TISC in Abuja from his home in Jos, some 200 kilometers away. He is researching food and drug development from local plants known to have medicinal properties. He says he has already created four products he hopes to patent and is researching 10 other products.

“TISC has broadened my perspective on research and development and I can never be the same again. There is no way I can work for any person in this life given the knowledge I have acquired from WIPO on patent,” he says.

Josephs Chinonye Spencer is a strategic marketer researching on mobile at the Abuja TISC. (Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan)

Broadening perspectives

The Director/Registrar of Patents in the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investments in Nigeria, Nima Salman-Mann, said that the centre had helped to open the eyes of Nigerians to their rights relating to intellectual property and patents, emboldening them to seriously develop patents.

“We have done our best to educate Nigerians to understand the importance of protecting their product patents and intellectual property. Intellectual property is wealth for life as nobody can take it away from the owner,” the director says.

"Intellectual property is wealth for life"

The Chairman of the TISC Project and Head of Patent in the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, Aisha Salihu explained that the number of users of the centre had been on the increase.

Salihu said that the TISC had made it possible for Nigerians to approach their research and development with a sense of confidence and hope in themselves.

“What Nigerians never knew existed has now been brought by TISC to their doorsteps and I do know that they are very happy with the facility’s existence in Nigeria,” she said.

Gabriel Joseph, who hopes one day to hold a patent, says he is happy to have been linked up with WIPO through TISC on Facebook.

He said that the centre had driven away his initial fears of developing, only to lose it to piracy: “Now I know that once I come up with my own product, I can beat my chest in adulation that it is truly mine. The information we get here is indeed an eye-opener and a morale booster.”