Firm Challenges Voiding of Patents for Ballot Boxes

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega and four others have been dragged before a Federal High Court in Abuja over the minister’s alleged unlawful voiding of patent rights held by a firm, Bedding Holdings Limited (BHL).
Aganga on March 19, this year, issued a gazette purporting to void about six patent rights held by the firm shortly after the  Federal High Court had in a judgment on January 28 this year, awarded damages of about N17.3 billion against INEC for infringing one of the patents.
BHL, in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/408/2014 filed on May 30 by its lawyer, John Okoriko, wants the court to among others, set aside the gazette on the grounds that it was unlawfully issued, and that the law relied upon by the minister contravened provisions of the constitution.
The plaintiff, who raised three questions for determination, is seeking five reliefs among which is an order nullifying the gazette described as “Gazette No 18 Vol 101 Government Notice No. 24 dated March 19, 2014 and title: Use of patents for service of government agencies (INEC) order 2014,” purporting to revoke the patent and designs rights of the plaintiff, without notifying and compensating it as required by the Patent and Designs Act.
It contended that the gazette issued by the minister under the provisions of Paragraphs 15, 16 and 17 of Part II of the 1st Schedule to the Patent and Designs Act, was  inconsistent with the provisions of sessions 1(1)and (3), 6, 36, 44 and 251 of the Constitution and 6 and 25 of the Patent and designs Act.
BHL asked the court to declare that the issuance of the gazette after the court had, in two subsisting judgments, delivered on June 5, 2012 and January 28, 2014 held that it was the bona fide exclusive owner of the patents which the gazette sought to void, was contrary to the principle of rule of law.
It is also seeking a declaration that the gazette issued after the two judgments cannot have the retroactive effect of revoking its exclusive right over the Transparent Ballots Boxes and Proof of Address System/Scheme (PASS) associated with the process of the application of the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines, being used by INEC in procuring and compiling voters register, with a view to depriving it of the royalties, including the award made against INEC for earlier infringements.
The plaintiff is seeking a declaration that the provisions of the Patent and Designs Act relied on by the minister in issuing the gazette is inferior and inconsistent with  the provisions of sections1(1)and (3), 6, 36, 44 and 251 of the Constitution and 6 and 25 of the Patent and designs Act.
It equally seeks a declaration that by virtue of the provisions of sections 1(1) and (3), 6, 36, 44 and 251 of the Constitution and 6 and 25 of the Patent and Designs Act, and the subsisting judgments of the court, the minister cannot validly issue the gazette revoking its adjudged exclusive rights over the inventions.
The plaintiff’s affected patent and design rights purportedly revoked by the minister’s gazette are “RP No. 10511 (for collapsible steel frame structures); RP No. 12994 (for transparent ballot boxes); RP No. 16642 (for electronic collapsible ballot boxes); NG/P/2010/202 (for Proof of Address System Schemes – PASS); RD No. 13841 (for electronic collapsible ballot boxes); RD No. 5946 (for transparent ballot boxes) and RD No. 3962 (for collapsible steel frame structures).”
Also named as defendants in the suit are the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment; the Registrar of Patents in the ministry, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke (SAN) and INEC.
BHL’s Group Executive Chairman, Sylvester Odigie, averred, in a supporting affidavit, that the patent and designs rights which the minister sought to void were among many of such rights his company owned and which were duly registered with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
He stated that when INEC infringed on his firm’s rights over the transparent ballot boxes, it sued the commission and some others and got a judgment on June 5, 2012 where the court adjudged it the bonafide owner of the exclusive patent right over the transparent ballot boxes and restrained INEC and others from further using the boxes without its consent.
Odigie added that when INEC committed a similar infringement in respect of his firm’s patent over the process of applying the DDC machines for voters’ register, it equally sued and got another judgment on January 28 this year in which Justice Ibrahim Auta awarded N17.3billion damages against INEC for the infringement.
He averred that rather than obey the judgments, INEC and others appealed. He added that while parties were awaiting the determination of the appeals by the Court of Appeal, Abuja, INEC allegedly influenced the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment to issue the gazette purporting to void his company’s patents and designs rights, some of which formed the subject of the pending appeals.
The defendants are yet to respond to the case.

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