10 Intellectual Property Cases that Made Headlines in 2015

2015 Cases

December 21, 2015 — Awareness about Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in Nigeria has been riding the waves of growth over the past few years. From copyright infringement suits to cases of unpaid royalty, 2015 leaves no doubt that suing for the protection of intellectual property is quickly becoming common practice in Nigeria. Below are 10 intellectual property cases that made headlines in 2015:

10. Ghills Entertainment Limited v. Union Bank Plc.

Suit No: FHC/L/CS/659/15
Filed on May 18, 2015
Federal High Court, Lagos

Facts: In May of 2015, GHills Entertainment Ltd. (the Plaintiff), an events, content provider and entertainment company filed a Suit against Union Bank Plc. (the Defendant) for alleged copyright infringement.

According to the Plaintiff, sometime in 2014, it developed a youth activation product idea and pitched the idea to representatives of the Defendant, in the Events and Sponsors Unit of the Defendant bank. The Plaintiff alleged that it had several meetings and discussions with the Defendant’s representatives, with the last being in February of 2015. The Plaintiff further alleged that the representatives of the Defendant showed interest in the idea and prompted the Plaintiff to develop detailed materials to help launch the Defendant’s product on campuses.

However in March of 2015, the Plaintiff discovered that the Defendant had gone ahead to execute an edition of the project similar to that pitched by the Plaintiff to the Defendant’s representatives. This led the Plaintiff to file Suit No. FHC/L/CS/659/15 against the Defendant for copyright infringement at the Federal High Court Ikoyi, Lagos.


9. Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) v. First Bank of Nigeria

Suit No: FHC/CS/L/530/2014
Before: Justice Ibrahim Buba
Federal High Court, Lagos

Although this suit was filed in 2014, trial commenced on March 17, 2015.

Facts: The Copyright Society of Nigeria filed a suit against one of Nigeria’s largest banks, First Bank of Nigeria. The suit was filed before Honourable Justice Ibrahim Buba at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos. The suit was filed with regards to unpaid royalties and damages against First Bank for copyright infringement — unauthorized use of several musical works and sound recordings communicated to the public. First Bank was also sued for its alleged unauthorized use of the works in its video presentation, “Sights and Sounds of Carnival Calabar”.


8. Celtel International Ltd. v. Celtel Nigeria Limited & Anor.

Before: Justice Evoh Chukwu
Federal High Court, Abuja

Facts: Celtel International Limited (the Plaintiff) filed a suit against telecommunications giant, Celtel Nigeria Limited (the 1st Defendant) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in Nigeria.The Suit was filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja based on allegations of double registration and infringement of a trade name. The Plaintiff demanded N3.1 billion as damages for the alleged infringement of its trade name and forgery as well as the illegal registration of a company with a similar name.

The Plaintiff further sought an order restraining the 1st Defendant from using a similar name ‘Celtel Nigeria Limited’ or any other name that is likely to confuse or misrepresent the name of the Plaintiff to the public. The Plaintiff stated that it was first in time to be incorporated as it was registered on the April 25, 1997 whilst Celtel Nigeria Limited was registered on October 27, 2006. The Plaintiff alleged that as at the time it was registered there was no legally registered company in the name of ‘Celtel Nigeria Limited’ and that the purported documents of the registration of the 1st Defendant’s company are false, contrived and non-existent. The Plaintiff further averred that the 1st Defendant passed-off the Plaintiff’s name ‘Celtel International Limited’ when the 2nd Defendant (CAC) registered it despite the 1st Defendant’s discovery of two companies with the name: Celltel Nigeria Limited and Celtel International Limited after a search was conducted at the registry of the 2nd Defendant.


7. Mr. Paul Dairo v. Emerging Market Telecommunications Services & Anor.

Suit No. FHC/L/CS/581/2014
Before: Justice C. J. Aneke
Federal High Court, Lagos

Facts: Musician, Paul Play Dairo (the Plaintiff) filed Suit No. FHC/L/CS/581/2014 for Copyright Infringement. The case was filed against Etisalat (Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd), one of the big telecommunications service providers in Nigeria and Optima Media Group (the 1st and 2nd Defendants respectively). According to the Plaintiff, the 1st Defendant used his song ‘Mosorire’ in its popular reality TV singing competition, ‘Nigerian Idol’ for two consecutive years without paying him.

In his supporting affidavit, the Plaintiff averred:

“I am the copyright owner of the work named and tagged ‘Mosorire’, contained in my repertoire, exclusively for the jurisdiction of Nigeria and the authority or permission to exploit such work can only be obtained from me…However, the Defendants being an organizer of a television reality show tagged, ‘Nigerian Idol’ caused the use, adaptation and deployment of my said work titled, ‘Mosorire’ on the said show without my consent, and which was broadcast to several millions of television viewers throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the rest of Africa for 2012 and 2013 editions.”

The Plaintiff averred the Defendants particularly infringed on his copyright when they allowed a contestant on the show to reproduce and perform his song on television, stating that as a singer and composer, he was entitled to an annual fee of N100m on the said track, commensurate with his effort in putting the work together. The Plaintiff further averred that having made use of his work without obtaining permission from him, the Defendants had caused him loss of income while “they have made gains and improved on their own brand image.”

The Plaintiff sought a declaration:

“that the act of adaptation, deployment, public performance and exploitation of his musical work titled ‘Mosorire’ by the Defendants without the Plaintiff’s prior consent, authorization or permission constitutes an infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright, as guaranteed by the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004 and sections 6 (6) (b) and 44 of the 1999 Constitution.”


6. Copyright Society of Nigeria v. Big Joe Ventures

Suit No. FHC/B/CS/153/15
Federal High Court, Benin City

Facts: On June 30, the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) filed Suit No. FHC/B/CS/153/15 at the Federal High Court, Benin City. The Suit was filed against Big Joe Ventures, a transportation company, and its Managing Director (the Defendants). COSON (the Plaintiff) sought a declaration that the act of the Defendants, without the authority or permission of COSON, in copying, communicating to the public and permitting to be performed in the commercial buses and bus stations owned or operated by Defendants, the various musical works and sound recordings belonging to the members, assignees and affiliates of COSON is an infringement of the rights of the Plaintiff as guaranteed by the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The Plaintiff asked the court for:

  1. The award of N500 Million in unpaid royalties and damages against the Defendants for the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform in public and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to the members, affiliates and assignors of the Plaintiff.
  2. A perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, their agents, privies or servants from the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to its members, affiliates and assignors.

5. Copyright Society of Nigeria v. Lagos Oriental Hotel & Anor.

Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1091/15
Federal High Court, Lagos

Facts: The Copyright Society of Nigeria filed Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1091/15 at the Federal High Court in Lagos against Lagos Oriental Hotel located in Victoria Island, and its General Manager, Mr. Philip Speilhage.

In the 39 paragraph Statement of Claim, COSON (the Plaintiff) sought a declaration that the act of the Defendants, without the authority or permission of COSON, in copying, communicating to the public and permitting to be performed in public the musical works and sound recordings belonging to COSON members, affiliates and assignors, is an infringement of the rights of the Plaintiff as guaranteed by the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

More specifically, the Plaintiff asked the court for:

  1. The award of N500 Million in unpaid royalties and damages against the Defendants for the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform in public and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to the members, affiliates and assignors of the Plaintiff.
  2. A perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, their agents, privies or servants from the unauthorized copying, communication to the public, permission to perform and infringement of the copyright in the musical works and sound recordings belonging to its members, affiliates and assignors.
  3. Exemplary and aggravated damages.

4. Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (Ltd/Gte) v. Details Nigeria Limited

Suit No: CA/L/506/1999
Judgement delivered on May 28, 2015
Court of Appeal, Lagos

This appeal was based on a decision given by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. At issue was whether the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) can administer, protect or sue for the infringement of its intellectual property rights without being a collecting society approved by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).

Facts: MCSN had sued Details Nigeria Limited (one of the operators of Multichoice or DSTV in Nigeria) for the sum of N100 million as damages for the alleged infringement of its copyright. MCSN obtained an Anton Pillar order against details for the unauthorized use of the musical works. Details objected challenging the legal right of MCSN to institute the suit on grounds that it lacked locus standi.  The Federal high Court, presided over by Honourable Justice Tajudeen Odunowo (retired) ruled that MCSN did not possess the locus standi to institute the suit and struck out the action. MCSN appealed to the Court of Appeal stating that it did not institute the action as a collecting society but that it filed in its capacity as an owner, assignee and / or exclusive licensee of the copyright allegedly infringed by Details Nigeria Limited.

The Court of Appeal presided over by Honourable Justice Amina Adamu Augie and in a lead judgment delivered on May 28, 2015 by Honourable Justice Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh unanimously decided that as an owner, assignee and exclusive licensee, the MCSN need not be a collecting society before it can sue for the infringement of its copyright and therefore declared that Section 39 (formerly Section 32B) of the Copyright Act does not apply to MCSN in this case. The Court of Appeal however rejected MCSN’s contention that Section 32(B)(4) of the Act, which deals with the granting of approval by the NCC to operate as a collecting society in Nigeria, is optional, holding that it is mandatory.


3. Subaya Metalware Nigeria Limited v. Toyota Motor Corporation & Anor.

At Issue: Use of the  “Lexus & Device” trademark for goods in Classes 9 and 11
Before: Justice Ibrahim Buba
Federal High Court, Lagos

Facts: In 2013, the 1st Defendant, Toyota Motor Corporation, applied to register “Lexus & Device” in Nigeria, with application Nos. F/TM/O/2013/4233 and F/TM/O/2013/4236 in Classes 9 and 11 respectively. The Applications were allowed by the Trademarks Registrar (the 2nd Defendant) and published for opposition purposes in the Online Trademarks Journal Vol. 1 No. 2 of August 14, 2014.

The Plaintiff, Subaya Metalware Nigeria, while filing a motion ex parte against the 1st and 2nd Defendants claimed to currently hold valid and subsisting certificates of trademark registration since 1996 and 2008 and that it had built goodwill in the Nigerian market place. The Plaintiff, in its 26 paragraph affidavit also claimed to have expended huge amounts of money over the years for the marketing and promotions of its Lexus Fans and Devices, Lexus Ultimate (Stylised), and Lexus Diamond & Device brand of products.

Earlier this year, this case made headlines following the issuance of an injunction by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos, restraining the 1st Defendant from trading with its “Lexus & Device” trademark for goods in Classes 9 and 11, on grounds that they are confusingly similar to registered trademarks owned by the Plaintiff, pending the hearing of a motion on notice. The Federal High Court at the time also restrained the Registrar of Trademarks and its officials from issuing certificates of trademark registration to the 1st Defendant in respect of application Nos. F/TM/O/2013/4233 and F/TM/O/2013/4236 in Classes 9 and 11 respectively, on grounds that is likely to infringe, erode, pass-off and be confusingly similar with Plaintiff’s prior registered trademarks.


2. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)  v. Natural Network Petroleum Gas Company Limited (NNPG) & Anor.

Suit No. FHC/AK/99/15
Justice I.M Sanni
Federal High Court, Akure

Facts: The Plaintiff (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) avers that sometime in 2015, it discovered that 1st Defendant (Natural Network Petroleum and Gas Company Limited) was engaged in the business of selling petroleum products in Akure, Ondo State under the confusing brand design of “NNPG”, which in its opinion is at the very least, confusingly similar to that of the Plaintiff’s registered trademark “NNPC”.

Following this discovery, the Plaintiff filed Suit No. FHC/AK/99/15 against NNPG for the alleged infringement on its trademark. Also cited as Defendants in the Suit Were the Corporate Affairs Commission and Registrar of Trademarks, Patent and Designs. The Plaintiff alleged that 1st Defendant was imitating NNPC “by using its colour combination of red, yellow, green, uniform, emblem and the acronym “NNPG” to deceive the public and that the infringement on the NNPC’s trademark by the 1st Defendant dwindled sales of NNPC in Ondo State.

The Plaintiff is seeking a declaration that the “NNPG” mark is phonetically, alphabetically and confusingly identical/similar to NNPC’s trademark. The Plaintiff also asked the court:

  1. to make an order of perpetual injunction restraining NNPG from selling, offering any service, advertising for sale or promoting howsoever the name and consequently the acronym of NNPG in any of its service outlets, or any similar acronym, mark design and / or trade logo identical or similar to its own.
  2. to direct the Corporate Affairs Commission pursuant to Section 31(1) and (4) of the Companies and Allied Matters act, 1990 to remove the NNPG’s name from its record being similar with its registered trademark “NNPC.”
  3. to direct the Registrar of Trademarks, Patent and Designs never to accept for registration the word “NNPG” or any word or color combination so closely identical or similar to its own.
  4. to stop NNPG from using similar/identical colors/combination of colors to that of the plaintiff as its retail outlets.
  5. to restrain NNPG from infringing or assisting others to infringe on the plaintiff’s registered trademark, colors/combination of colors, totems, insignia and emblem.
  6. to order NNPG to remove all sign posts, names/acronyms with letters “NNPG” and any such identical/similar design infringing on its trademark with immediate effect.
  7. for the sum of N5 million being exemplary damages and N10 million as general damages for the infringement and passing off of its trademark and design.

1. Intellectual Property Lawyers Association Nigeria v. Attorney-General of the Federation & Ors.

Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/334/2015
Justice A.R. Mohammed
Federal High Court, Abuja

Facts: The Intellectual Property Lawyers Association Nigeria (IPLAN) filed Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/334/2015 against the Federal Government over the Appointment of Registrar of Trademarks, Patents & Designs at the Federal High Court, Abuja. IPLAN alleged that there were irregularities in the appointment of the Registrar of Trademarks, Patents and Designs and sought to compel the relevant agencies of the Federal Government to follow due process in the appointment of the Registrar who’s office and function is very crucial and sensitive ‎to the protection of intellectual property rights in Nigeria. The Defendants to the Suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation, Federal Minister of Trade and Investment, the Registrar of Trademarks, Patents and Designs,and the Federal Civil Service Commission

This article is intended to provide general information about the subject matter. Professional legal advice should be sought about specific circumstances.

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About Ufuoma Akpotaire 247 Articles
Ufuoma is a Senior Editor and Director of Regulatory Policy at NLIPW. She assists clients in the protection of copyrights, trademarks and patents. She counsels clients regarding validity and infringement matters and has experience acting against the infringement of IP and addressing counterfeit issues. She holds a Masters degree (LL.M.) from Columbia Law School, New York and a law degree from the University of Nigeria (LL.B. Honors). She is admitted to practice law in Nigeria and in the State of New York. Ufuoma cut her teeth in the intellectual property practice groups of some of the largest law firms in Nigeria and has years of experience working with major non-profit organizations in New York. Email: uakpotaire@nlipw.com

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