Posted on October 5, 2020 in Publications

Interview with Olatoyosi Alabi – Diverse Law Legal Personality of the Month (October 2020)

Toyosi Alabi

Ma, can we meet you?

My name is Olatoyosi Alabi (Mrs.), a legal practitioner of 25 years.

I am a Partner at Olaniwun Ajayi LP  with over 20 years’ experience and proficiency in Intellectual property, notably trademarks enforcement, a prosecutor and defender of a number of lawsuits involving passing off claims, trademark, design, patent and copyright infringement, and revocation of trademarks. On the non-contentious side, I represent clients notably in Mergers and Acquisition transactions, advising on the transfer, acquisition or licensing of IP rights.

Outside law, I am quite passionate about engaging, motivating and building people up through counseling. I am a mother of three children and a Christian with a strong belief and faith in Christ,.

In the last twenty (20) years, Intellectual Property was not recognized in Nigeria as it is now, what factors influenced the choice of your practice area?

My interest in the practice of Intellectual property law stemmed from the firm I cut my teeth in practice with; Jackson Etti and Edu, specialists in Intellectual property. I will not say that  intellectual property law was unknown in Nigeria, as my previous firm and other IP firms in Nigeria, had huge portfolios of intellectual property matters, mostly from foreign clients with brands in Nigeria;  from electronic companies like Sony, to food brands like Kelloggs and Mars,  and cosmetic brands like Fashion Fair etc.

I focused on enforcing intellectual property rights through litigation as well as quasi-judicial measures like enforcement through the Standard Organization of Nigeria or the police, to protect intellectual property rights.

What is the future of Intellectual Property Law and Entertainment Law in the Nigeria Industry?

To envisage the future of intellectual property law, let’s dwell a little on the present.

Previously, intellectual property was centered on brand protection of manufactured goods, across various business sectors ranging from electronic manufacturing to fashion, to foods. With the advent of entertainment and technology, creations have become less tangible, making creatives concerned not just about branding but about exploitation of  the various components of  proprietary rights in their brands, and the prevention of unauthorised exploitation and devaluation of their works.

Creatives are past being solely concerned about someone recording music unauthorizedly and awoken to the commercialization of their work beyond their original creation. Although copyright in Nigeria need not be registered for proprietorship to be attributed to an author of works, creatives have recognized the competitive advantage in depositing their work with the copyright commission to secure their ownership for exploitation and facilitate adequate protection.

With the wave of Afrocentricity in the movie industry (not least from the ground breaking success of the megabudget film, Blank Panther), foreign investors are showing a much higher degree of appreciation and interest in works authored by Africans. We are thus witnessing within  the entertainment legal space, a lot of licensing and assignment of intellectual property rights, and a higher degree of recognition of the value of intellectual property rights   as  over which security interests can be created,  even as  securitization of IP is gaining prominence  in  advanced jurisdictions.

The recognition of different segments and parties involved in creative activity will rise as intellectual property rights are highly transactional and its full force would be seen in the aspects of entertainment and technology law.

What opportunities await Law students and Young Lawyers interested in Intellectual Property Law and what skills should they acquire?

Every skill required by any lawyer would be needed by an intellectual property lawyer. The basic contract law would always be king as its skills are very necessary. Specialist knowledge of IP can be obtained by educating oneself through direct read, interning with creatives or with law firms with IP practices. The knowledge of Mergers and Acquisitions would also come in handy as companies who need to invest and acquire IP assets would require the services of lawyers to advise them on these acquisitions and investments.

Speaking of opportunities open in intellectual property area, we have intellectual property enforcement lawyers who prosecute IP infringers, and defend proprietors’ works. To this end, knowledge of civil and criminal procedure will come in handy.  In other to thrive in this area, basic substantive knowledge of the law of torts, notably passing off, would be necessary. Knowledge of statutes governing Intellectual Property rights such as Trademarks Act, Patents and Designs Act, Copyright Act is key.

A lawyer who has studied law will essentially be able to plug his/her knowledge of contract when practicing. The role of contract law cannot be overemphasized and that forms the reason contract law should be taken very seriously from the get go. At the end of the day, contract will still be contract. The basic contractual principles would still apply irrespective of the sector.

If you are looking at being an Intellectual Property Enforcement lawyer, the knowledge base for that is just your civil and criminal procedure for a start. When it has to do with IP protection, substantive areas of torts, tort of passing off cannot be neglected.

Knowledge of all these areas will put a young lawyer in good stead.

As a Partner at Olaniwun Ajayi LP, how have you been able to effectively strike a balance between work life and other aspects of life?

 It’s an ongoing discussion and each person has found a way to work around it. I need to let us know that people in the work force or get married at different ages. Some work before getting married, while some others like me get married before joining the work force. I got married a year after law school. Immediately after law school, I went for my masters, waited a couple of months and got married prior to NYSC. Family comes first for me. I tried to balance that anytime I was not working, I was family focused.

In life, something has to give way for the other and in my own case; hanging out with friends gave way in my marital life. The quality of time you spend with your children speaks volumes. So after work, I make the most of the few hours left in the day for my children and when they go to bed, I may pull my laptop or a book back up and work. The other thing in relation to marriage was when the children go to bed, my husband and I will then have the much-needed time for each other as a couple. If you start out family life before your career the effect maybe that your career progression may be slowed down, but it is worth the sacrifice. I encourage people who have opportunities to work before marriage to sow a lot, so they can reap quickly and rely on the residual knowledge and experience when the children come and take up their time. Olaniwun Ajayi  launched a ‘Today; Tomorrow’ new way of life, which has been of help to many, as it essentially allows the generation of tomorrow, to shape the Olaniwun Ajayi business today, Members of the firm were granted the freewill to express and recreate  their work environment in the way it suits them. The firm took a drastic step in implementing a number of the creative suggestions proffered, in the spirit of “Today Tomorrow”. Of note is the introduction of flexi hours on a weekly basis given to members of staff to ‘do their own thing’.

What measures should be adopted to curb plagiarism in the Nigerian Entertainment Industry?

Plagiarism means infringement of a proprietary right. In relation to trademarks, the requisite legal terminology will be Trademark Infringement, while for copying of written articles or other literary work, it’s called Plagiarism or more pertinently, Copyright Infringement and in relation to replication of products, Counterfeiting. It has been tough to curb infringements especially in relation to technology. Although there are sufficient provisions in the Copyright Act for enforcement, including the reliance on Copyright inspectors of the Copyright Commission, or the Police to carry out search and seizures of infringing works, Nigeria however does not have sufficient machinery to actualize these provisions. 

Going down history lane, at the peak of pirating of DVDs in Nigeria, some proprietors, coming to terms with the limitations of curbing counterfeiting using the machination of the law, put on a more commercial  hat, and decided to  identifyand engage the big copyright infringers notably at Alaba market, here in Lagos. They approached infringers and struck a parallel deal with them; they formed a ‘Parallel trade’ whereby, for ‘commission-royalty payments’, proprietors of films authorized the copy of their movies by the ‘Alaba movement’, obviously at cheaper rates and in less qualitative forms, for a specific target market, whilst the ‘original’ more qualitative copies of the movies, were sold in the more elitist market. The end goal? A win win that enabled the proprietors earn from both markets and a peaceful more overt operation by previous infringers.

In a similar vein, the ‘take down’ demand as a mechanism of enforcement turned out to be an easier way to enforce infringement in the digital space. This has been effective because most of the credible distribution platforms do not want to be parties to litigation or or other contentious forms of dispute resolution. One major challenge is difficulty in identifying the infringers, in the absence of which the distribution platform is the target to which a takedown demand is made for infringing works.

What is your advice to law students and young lawyers on specialization?

Firstly, I must say that it is good to be in that place where you do not know what to specialize in.

I actually congratulate people of this generation because they are at that indecisive stage. Being at this ‘indecisive’ stage means that there is no pressure, and there is an opportunity toexplore and discover yourself. In fact, there is no timeline for specialization and there should be no hurry as this is an issue of discovery. Years of experience will assist you in narrowing down and knowing what you really want to do. Further, the Nigerian market is not tailored enough yet for a lawyer to settle for training in only one area of law. The nature of our market requires that you become a master of many; to be a good lawyer, you need to have sufficient knowledge in other areas.   

Therefore, with practice and experience, you will discover your area of passion and marry your passion with the economic value attainable from specifics areas of specialization.

Diverse Law Interview Team

  1. Mary Martins- Founding Partner, Diverse Law
  2. Philips Adekemi- Founding Partner, Diverse Law
  3. Chubiyojo Akagu-Vice President, Legal Personality Committee
  4. Adedamola Adetula- Head of research of personalities and Editorial team
  5. Ikeriehi Princess- Diverse Law, Volunteer
  6. Oluwasemipe Lanipekun -Lawal
    Associate, Recruitment Officer, Diverse Law.