Nigeria’s low investment in scientific research has seen foreigners continue to dominate the country’s patent activities since 2011. The trend is unlikely to change given that the country’s entire budget of N157 Billion for the Ministry of Science and Technology is still below the average spend on research by countries in Africa.
It also means Nigerians with aspirations for scientific research and innovations that are patentable will not get the support they need any time soon. In the past, this lack of support has contributed to Nigerians moving to countries with robust support for scientific research activities leaving the home field for foreigners who can fund their own research.
From 2016, 2017, and 2018, foreigners have accounted for about 80, 60, and 80 percent of the total patents granted in Nigeria. The foreigners – referred to as ‘non-residents,’ in a World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) data, received 686, 300, and 642 patent grants in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively, compared to residents that got 200, 252, and 200 in the same period. Diaspora contribution to patent activities is not significant compared to peers like South Africa and Kenya.
Although Nigeria has an enviable digital footprint with teledensity hitting 207 million in November 2020, it has often come at a very huge cost to the country’s economy, as almost all the technologies driving the digital boom are imported from countries with strong research industries. As of 2018, China, the United States of America, Japan, and South Korea owned the largest patents with 1.3 million, 285,095; 253,630, and 162,561.
Nigeria’s lag is not for want of human capital in science, some experts who spoke with BusinessDay said. There are hundreds of Nigerians working in well recognised research facilities across the world and within the country in facilities sponsored by foreign institutions.
Poor financial support is largely why scientists in the country are not motivated enough to make new discoveries or apply their minds to innovations that are patentable. “Patent means nothing when you don’t have enough science activities. We are not scientific. We have a very good patent system, but foreigners are the ones benefiting from our patent policy. Most of the research in Nigeria is led by foreigners and many of them are initiated outside the country.
“Foreigners come here because they need the patents to protect their business, the foreigners come with global grants and lawyers are making a lot of money from patent registration. We have a disdain for science in Nigeria,” Emeka Azuka Okoye, CEO of Cymantiks, told BusinessDay.
Nevertheless, Nigeria is not the only country with an old patent policy. To change trajectory, the country would need to redirect its focus. Ireke suggests that Nigeria can build a corps of technical and vocationally competent professionals whose expertise and instinct is to improve things around them right where they are.
“Such communities are the sort that aspires after and commits to marginal innovations in the existing state of things – devices, tools, structures, etc – around them. That is how patentable assets and designs that are registrable emerge locally,” Ireke said.