Lawyer Of The Week – Senator Ihenyen
Meet our lawyer of the week, Senator Ihenyen. An IP and IT practitioner, Senator has a handful of astute things to say. Follow our exclusive interview with him below.
Can we meet you?
I’m Senator Iyere Ihenyen, an intellectual property (IP) and information technology (IT) lawyer. I am Lead Partner of Infusion Lawyers— a virtual IP & IT law firm— and Founder, Nigerian Law Today, an online legal-resource site.
What inspired your interest in the practice of Intellectual Property (IP) Law?
Innovation. More than ever before, we now live in a world that needs more and more doses of innovation. Today, without sustainable innovation, lives and businesses would increasingly become endangered. This is because change has become both unavoidable and ubiquitous, needing something new to make it positive and valuable. This is why innovation is critical. Because IP is the only area of law that protects, supports, and exploits innovation, this inspired my interest in IP and continues to do so. I am motivated by the immense value that IP can help create for both innovators and the rest of us.
To you, what is the most challenging aspect of working as an IP Lawyer?
The poor knowledge of IP by most individuals out there, and by implication the stark lack of appreciation of IP’s critical role in wealth creation, economic growth, and development. In our private sector, most businesses and companies don’t have any IP strategies for efficient and effective management of their IP portfolio, thus putting both their businesses and the consumers at avoidable risks. And in the public sector, most agencies and even public corporations have no IP policies, leading to a poor use of their IP, if any, to open the many locked-up windows of opportunity in the public sector. The result of this combined poor knowledge of IP both in Nigeria’s private and public sectors has been the poor state of the Nigerian economy for over decades. Nigeria has one of the poorest ratings in the world in Human Development Index (HDIs). Without IP, developing economies like Nigeria will continue to rely on imported innovation and technology, putting its own future at great risk as our large and youthful population only ends up becoming Africa’s largest consumer marketplace rather than also becoming Africa’s largest producer market. So when you consider all of these socio-economic factors and unhealthy policies, you realize that growing an IP practice in Nigeria would be greatly challenging.
What aspect of the practice keeps you going?
The interplay of IP with digital technology. This aspect will continue to get more interesting as more digital technologies disrupt existing platforms and technologies. In this era of robots with artificial intelligence, 3D technology, and innovative and disruptive business models, IP as we know it will continue to change from its traditional shape to an increasingly shapeless system, flexible enough to work in different environments. It must also be strong enough so the system does not become weak in the process.For example, who is the author of a novel written by a robot? To show how complex this can be, various jurisdictions have different positions.
Apart from the interplay of IP with digital technology, I am interested in using IP combined with IT to help digital businesses succeed so we can achieve real economic growth and development through entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology. These things keep me going.
What is your advice to those who want to delve into this practice area?
Three vital things. First, be genuinely interested in IP’s potentials to create wealth through the power of ownership of intangible assets. IP practice requires genuine interest in protecting and exploiting IP to help individuals, businesses, and governments add value to what they do, expand opportunities, and create wealth for all.
Second, be innovative. If you are not innovative and you are not motivated by creating value before anything else, stare clear of IP. Research. Think both in and out of the box. Like an inventor, be curious; ask questions. Be hungry for answers. Disrupt.
Third, be original by being yourself, not anybody else, otherwise you will not have the staying power to dig deep enough for value creation. Consistency is key in any legal practice. It’s both the key and the door in IP practice. It’s not for overnight Bitcoin investors. It’s not MMM. It’s a demanding, dynamic practice area. Be real.
What are your thoughts on the issue of net neutrality, is it purely an American problem?
Since the Internet was invented, net neutrality was bound to become a major issue. So I think we need to understand where we are are coming from, where we are now, and where we want to be. Amongst these 3 things, the where we want to be is understandably going to pose the major challenge.
There are two sides to it. Supporters in favour of net neutrality include Internet and technology companies. Think Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc. It also includes consumer-rights protection and human-rights advocates. These supporters believe that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must be neutral towards the use of the Internet by treating all data in the same way. In this way, ISPs are not allowed to discriminate by blocking certain apps, users, and websites or charging them differently. For example, MTN is not allowed to charge WhatsApp users more data costs or block users from accessing it.
This is to ensure competition, innovation, and free access to services on the Internet. But those against net neutrality such as ISPs, broadband, telecommunications companies, and manufacturers. Think Verizon, Intel, IBM, Qualcomm, etc. Their biggest argument against net-neutrality regulations is that it would stifle investment in broadband, a technology that is critical to other sectors of the company. They also want government to hands-off regulation of the Internet so it’s not overregulated. Now net neutrality is certainly not an American thing. From India to Canada, South Africa to Brazil, Russia to the UK, net neutrality is a big issue. Nigeria is no exception. More and more Internet companies are coming up fast in Nigeria. Investment in broadband by ISPs is also present. Millions of Telecom subscribers use over the top (OTT) platforms bvsuch as WhatsApp and Facebook. So it’s not an American thing. Recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) backed an open-Internet approach. To the NCC, access to knowledge, services, and free speech, and freedom and use of the Internet for online business are benefits it considered. I think the way forward is somewhere in the middle. And this requires sector-wide consultations and public participation.
Considering how vital net neutrality is to both individuals and businesses, corporations and governments, the best way round the issue is around the roundtable.
Any final words?
Nigeria’s knowledge and innovation system needs urgent help. We are now in a knowledge economy. Any country that is serious about national development and global competitiveness must take its knowledge and innovation system seriously. Nigeria needs to really start taking this seriously. Lip services won’t leapfrog NIgeria anywhere. The country’s IP system needs to be reconfigured. The country also need to adopt what is called Triple Helix Model that encourages an interactive model of innovation, not the current linear model. With Triple Helix, our universities, industries, and governments would work together to fully exploit R & D to benefit millions of lives. This is the only way to sustainable development, not short-term innovation importations that is typical of our unhealthy innovation culture, if any. At the moment, we are joking with the future of this nation.