Lawyer of the Week – Chinyere Okorocha
Our Lawyer of the Week is Chinyere Okorocha. She is a lawyer of 27 years post call and a Partner in the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Jackson, Etti & Edu. She also heads the firms Leadership Team. She is happily married with 3 children.
Accruing to her, among other things, include:
– Considered an Authority & Specialist in Intellectual Property Law
– Council Member – Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Business Law
– Immediate past Chairperson, Intellectual Property (IP) Committee – Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Business Law
– Patron – The Law Society, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos
– Member – Dispute Resolution Panel, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC)
Nominated as one of Nigeria’s 50 most influential women in the Legal Profession (Business Day Newspaper, April 2011)
– Recognised as an expert in the Trademark Law Practitioners Expert Guides (2012 – 2018), Euromoney(UK)
– Recognized as an IP Star (2014 – 2018) in Managing Intellectual Property (UK)
– Recognized as one of the Worlds’ Leading Trademark Professionals for 2016 – 2018, World Trademark Report WTR 1000, UK
– Ranked in Chambers Global 2016 – 2018, as a Leading Individual in Intellectual Property in Nigeria
– Recognized in Who Is Who Legal Nigeria, 2017-2018 as an Intellectual Property Expert
Do follow our chat with her below!
You are a partner in the Intellectual Practice (IP) practice of reputable firm in the country, Jackson, Etti and Edu. Did you initially set out to practice IP?
No, I did not set out to focus specifically on intellectual property. I set out to practice all areas of law as we were taught in school. I was however exposed to IP when I did my Law Office attachment and I fell in love with it. This prompted me to work my way into the same firm for my National Youth Service from there my specialization in tis specialist area of the law took root.
Kindly give a rundown of your daily schedule?
My daily work schedule revolves around running through my checklist and attempting to tick off all the items one by one. Unfortunately, this is never possible, as unexpected urgent matters always occur, requiring urgent attention. All in all, the core areas of responsibility highlighted above are usually touched on. I am responsible for the client relationship management of key IP clients within the firm. Thus any issues regarding clients are dealt with on a daily basis…..This takes the form of responding to emails and/or supervising my team who are portfolio managers and intervening if necessary. As Head of Sectors, I am responsible for developing and implementing strategic goals for the firm across our 6 sectors of interest and I therefore liaise with other sector heads on a daily basis, to ensure we are on course. In terms of the leadership team, I am also constantly in touch with the managing partner of the firm to report and review various firm wide initiatives to ensure sustainability and growth firm wide. This could be in the form of a meeting or telephone conversations etc…. Apart from the above it is more than likely that off site meetings with clients or potential clients will take up part of my day, as we are always looking to acquire new business on a daily basis.
So how do you take a break from work?
Family is very important to me and so to unwind, I look for activities that allow me to spend time with my family. It could be watching a movie at home, or actually going to the movies. I also like to read a good book to unwind. Apart from that, I believe strongly in the power of the female tribe and I have my friends turned sisters, who I hang out with from time to time. We look for fun activities to engage in e.g. dining out, going to the spa, dancing etc. Finally, I love to travel, and I must get in at lease one family vacation yearly.
What is the most difficult problem you face in your practice and what keeps you going?
One of the most difficult problems I face as a practitioner in Nigeria is the fact that most of the laws are archaic and outdated and do not match up with international best practices. There is also little or no focus by law makers to remedy the situation. To assist with this problem as a firm we have spear headed various initiatives responsible for reviewing the existing laws as well as drafting proposed new laws for consideration by the law makers. We are also heavily involved in various stakeholder initiatives structured around lobbying for the new laws to be passed.
What is your counsel for law students and young wigs who look forward to building a career in the area of IP?
My counsel to law students and young wigs is to firstly, find your passion and to stick with it. For me, I fell in love with IP from the first time I was exposed to it. I was fascinated by the fact that I could create or coin a word and it could be developed into an international brand. It also gave me such a good feeling when I drove through the streets and could pick out various brand names who were clients of the firm and who I had been privileged to work with. So, as a young practitioner, it’s important to develop a genuine interest and love for this specialist area of the law …. Do not venture into it if you are only doing it because it’s fashionable. IP can be a little abstract and quite wide for students and young wigs unlike other areas like criminal law, property law, torts etc., therefore after your first exposure to it, attempt to focus on a specifics aspect of intellectual property develop expertise in it. Intellectual property covers several areas such as copyright, trademarks, patent and industrial designs and so focusing on a peculiar area and building expertise in it, is the best way to establish a name in intellectual property.
Lastly, go out of your comfort zone, read a lot and attend conferences to increase your knowledge and make new friends (both locally and internationally).
Counterfeiting is one national issue currently on the rise, which affects markets, investments and puts consumer health and safety at risk. In your opinion, what is the best approach to this issue?
In my opinion, the best way to combat counterfeiting in Nigeria is to create awareness at the grass root level. One of the major problems counterfeiters thrive is due to lack of knowledge. You will be amazed at the ignorance of a lot of people who should know better. If for example campaigns are run across schools, churches and other social platforms, the incidence of counterfeiting will be reduced. In addition, there needs to be more stringent sanctions for offenders. This takes me back to the issue of law reform, because most of the current laws do not even treat counterfeiting as a criminal offence and the current sanctions are abysmal to say the least. In addition, from the local to the national levels, there needs to be increased border enforcement measures through customs and police. Perhaps create a database and online system of reporting counterfeit goods. We also need to raise the production level and quality of Made in Nigerian good and products. If this can be achieved, then there will be no need to falsely label or imitate foreign goods and products.
One of the major factors for the trade war between the US and China is the claim by the US President that China has been stealing American IP assets and technology. How veritable is this claim by the POTUS and what is the significance the Trade War on emerging markets like Nigeria?
I cannot ascertain the veracity of the allegations made by the United States against China, but if on the basis of these allegations and the tariff imposed by both countries, a trade war is begun, it would have an adverse effect on the Nigerian economy.
It would lead to inflation considering Nigerians are heavily dependent on imported goods from China and the US. However, my take is that the discomfort would only last for a short while, as the situation would spur local development of imported goods and drive economic development.
It has been a subject of concern that the current Patent regime isn’t so ‘invention friendly’. What’s you take on this?
I totally agree, certain exceptions to patentable inventions such as plant varieties, has really affected investment in the agricultural sector in Nigeria. This is the reason why I advocate for a more progressive patent regime that grants patent rights to plant variety inventions. This again takes me to law reform as our patent laws and in dire need of reform and improvement to bring it at par with international best practices.
Any last words?
There is a global reliance on intellectual property as one of the keys drivers of Economic Growth. Ample studies have been conducted in this regard and the statistics are all there. Nigerians are highly creative people and some examples that support this theory is the explosion of our creative industry viz a viz Nollywood, as well as the music industry etc. It is my fervent hope that the Nigeria government will recognize the important role that intellectual property can play in the development and growth of the economy, and provide the necessary enabling environment for this area of the law to thrive.
Thank you for your time.