Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria: Copyright Matters and the Future of Intellectual Property Administration in Nigeria

Artificial intelligence  in Nigeria is a relatively new field. AI also known as machine intelligence, a term first coined over fifty years ago is finally becoming relevant and impactful in today’s global arena. AI in conjunction with other disruptive technologies such as Blockchain, Big data and Analytics, all constitute part of the new technological wave of advancements found at the forefront of governmental and private business operations worldwide.


The beauty of AI is its ability to manage a huge and unwieldy volume of data efficiently and speedily. AI works by identifying patterns, and analyzing codes while simultaneously providing optimal solutions making it a highly desirable tool for doing business in the modern world.

Unsurprisingly, in a time when ideas are being expressed and shared by a click, snap, upload and download functionality, an area which is undoubtedly important to note as being affected by this new wave is the area of intellectual property (IP) in Nigeria.

Analyzing possibilities of IP protection in AI related applications and products as well as the deployment of same for the administration of intellectual property by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and by extension member states raises several consideration.

In first quarter of 2018, the Director General of WIPO acknowledged that the need to apply AI based applications in the administration of Intellectual property rights is on the rise. His reason is not farfetched. Intellectual property data is on the rise and has maintained this trend over the last few years.

We are at the peak of a digital information age; issues concerning IP data handling have also risen such as -consistency and correctness of information, the gap in language barrier, speed in processing registration and searches, etc.

It has been argued that the traditional research methods, manual searches and lengthy decision making processes can be completely eliminated through the deployment of AI simplifying day-to-day tasks at the registries and enhancing administration of IP.

However, it is too soon to jump into such holistic conclusion as AI comes with its own challenges. The question will however be what possible protection exists for Artificial intelligence under the intellectual property in Nigeria? And also, how Artificial intelligence in Nigeria will help the administration of Intellectual property?

Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria and Copyright 

To set the background, Intellectual property is chiefly subdivided into the following categories – Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Design, geographical indications and trade secrets. An easy mistake is to consider the only available protection open to AI under the laws governing intellectual property in Nigeria is offered by the Patent and Designs Act.

This notwithstanding, an in-depth analysis exposes an interaction between Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria and the Copyright Act. AI related applications will usually run on software. However, it is important to note that there are no provisions for the protection of software under the Copyright Act in Nigeria.

Copyright protection arguably only extends to the original documented expression of the software. This original expression does not extend to the functionality of the software. It is only limited to the blueprint either in an audio, written or any other form permissible by the Copyright Act as being protectable thereunder.

Let us examine issue of “Authorship” under the Nigerian IP regime.  Careful observation of the language used in the Copyright Act indicates that an ‘author’ of an eligible work can only be attributed to an actual natural person or a body corporate duly registered in Nigeria.

It does not extend protections to artificial persons or machines.[1] If this is correct, will it be right to conclude that AI generated or created works are not protected by the Copyright Act of Nigeria?

In the United States, this matter was settled when the U.S. Copyright office in the “Monkey-selfie” case clarified that “to qualify as a work of ‘authorship’ a work must be created by a human being”.

[1] Section 2(1) Copyright Act Cap C28 LFN 2004

However, when we consider the fact AI applications are now being used to create works ordinarily copyrightable such as music and literary works, will it not be right to ask whether considerations should not be given to these works as copyrightable notwithstanding the fact that their creation is not in the real sense made by a natural person but an AI application based process.

Can it be said that the AI machines are the authors of the work or should it be argued that the creators of the AI machines are indeed the authors of these works? These questions are to be put into perspective by any government including Nigeria’s when considering a possible amendment of their copyright laws to meet up with the tide that is AI.

Furthermore, if it is indeed concluded that the authors of the work are persons that created the AI applications or machines and/or ordinarily caused it to do what it did, a question that would possibly arise is, what happens to such output when there are multiple users of AI?

For example, where party “A” takes the documented work of party “B” and runs it through an AI system, producing an output which is ordinarily copyrightable; who then will it be said owns the Copyright in the output of that process?, is there multiple yet distinct copyright in this situation, i.e. in the documented work and the output?

Or can party “A” claim copyright in both the documented work and the output? There are apparently several questions to be answered should concerning  the operation of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria should she decide to consider an amendment of the Copyright Act with AI as one of its subject of concern.

Also, independent of the above is the issue of Copyrighting AI data, the fact remains that raw data is not copyrightable. To elucidate on this, it is more specific when raw data has been manipulated and organized into structured data sets.

In this case and to the extent applicable, Trade secret protection is generally recommended. Whilst in Nigeria, an author is not required to intimate anyone including the Nigerian Copyright Commission (the commission) of his/her Copyright in the work created, an author of a work protectable as aforementioned may decide to inform the commission via the Nigerian Copyright eRegistration System.[1]

In this case, it is advisable that where such work contains data that is considered a trade secret, such portion should be removed and a separate letter should be forwarded to the commission stating that the registered work contains trade secrets.

[1] Note: This notification is not what confers Copyright on the work. It is a mere notification.

 Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria & The Administration of IP

The use of AI in the administration of Intellectual Property in Nigeria and beyond is driven essentially by three factors being the volume of IP data, quality of and cost of administering same. According to WIPO, in 2016 around 3.1 million Patent applications, 7 million Trademark applications and 963,000 Industrial Design applications were filed worldwide.

The volume is rapidly increasing with Nigeria contributing towards this quota. The question therefore is, whether the extant paper driven and manual administrative procedures will be sufficient to accurately, swiftly and in a cost effective manner, administer intellectual property data in the next few years.

The answer is not far-fetched as even WIPO perhaps giving the answer to be in the negative, has developed an AI-empowered image search tool for trademark which delivers results in a second with a high accuracy rate.

It is expected that the deployment of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria for the administration of IP will increase the quality and quantity of output and save costs for administering IP in the long run.

With an AI enabled registry, one can envisage the speed at which searches and registration can be processed. There will also be a significant reduction of errors and duplicity issues will be totally minimized because the day to day or routine matters will be handled by an automated search and identification process leaving the administrators to concentrate on more important tasks such as policy and strategy, enforcement which is considered necessary to aid the investment climate in Nigeria as far as Intellectual Property in Nigeria is concerned.

Finally, the application of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria is still at an infancy stage and the deployment of AI in the administration of Intellectual Property in Nigeria in a few years may happen sooner than we think.

The Nigerian government is encouraged to join the new wave and head for new shore which is AI. This will aid the administration of IP and will consequently positively contribute to the development and stability of Nigeria’s investment climate.

Written By: Garrick Nosa John – Associate; –   SET and Maritime