Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s (On the 26th of April, 2012, ) World Intellectual Property (WIP) day with a theme focusing on ‘Visionary Innovators’. Stakeholders as well as concerned members of the public gathered in different places on the day and before, to discuss and condemn IP theft and emphasize the need for intellectual property protection.

Each year on April 26, the World Intellectual Property Day calls attention to the need to protect the copyrights, trademarks and patents that give creators the ownership of their works and provide the incentive to produce the innovations that move society forward.

The World Intellectual Property Day has been held each year since 2001 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a U.N. agency based in Geneva and this year’s event focused on “Visionary Innovators” - original thinkers whose creations have made a lasting impact on the world.

At a roundtable conference put together by Hewlett Packard (HP), stakeholders called on the Federal Government and other regulatory bodies to foster anti-counterfeiting measures so as to harness the benefits of Intellectual Property for economic, social and cultural development. They urged the Federal Government to protect the nation’s IP through enacting legislation to ensure stiffer penalties are meted out to copyright and other IP violators.

In a document made available at the event, HP said, “Innovation and creativity are not confined to the arts or sciences, however; they are also present in business. Global demand for patents rose from 800,000 applications in the early 1980s to 1.8 million in 2009, showing how important intellectual property has become to business.”

“Nowhere is this more evident than in the information and communications technology field, where a company’s ability to compete - and the livelihood of the thousands of people it employs - literally depends on its ability to create new products and services and to protect its ownership of the same.”

The document states that, “HP, for example, is one of the biggest owners of intellectual property, with a portfolio of over 37,000 patents. Many of these are held by HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group (PPS), which manufactures not just printers and scanners but the ink and toner to supply them.  Propriety HP toner and ink cartridge technology, backed by decades of research and development, has achieved an excellent reputation for quality that counterfeiters try to exploit with inferior versions camouflaged in fake packaging.”

HP’s anti-counterfeit program fights counterfeit supplies, which defraud customers with a low-quality product. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) the market for printing supplies is nearly 30 billion Euros.

“Printing supplies are just one example of a growing international trade in counterfeit merchandise with serious implications for the world economy.  A 2011 study by Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) put the total annual value of all counterfeit merchandise worldwide at nearly US$800 billion and predicted it could reach US$1.7 trillion by 2015,” the document reads further.

While law enforcement plays a big role in protecting intellectual property, the decision to protect it ultimately lies with consumers, to whom it may seem a vague, academic notion.  The fact is intellectual property is all around us in the form of products which make our lives more enjoyable: medicines, software programs, books and music. However, consumers don’t always grasp the idea that these products are the creations of individuals whose rights should be respected.

A 2009 report by BASCAP regarding consumer attitudes on counterfeiting in 40 countries around the world said it was “a widely tolerated and unspoken social plague.”

Conclusively, the next time you have the chance to illegally download a movie or purchase a counterfeit printing cartridge or other technology, please think twice. You may not only be taking away the legitimate rights of a designer, artist, composer or inventor who created it, but also endangering the livelihood of the people who manufacture the real thing.

Though this year’s IP day has come and gone; government agencies such as the Nigerian Copyrights Commission, the Consumer Protection Council, the Standard Organization of Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission, need to create a stronger collaboration platform with the law enforcement agencies to tackle counterfeiting through a concerted effort.