Court Awards N17.3 billion Against INEC Over Illegal Use Of Electoral Materials

By Kevwe Ebireri

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Tuesday awarded the sum of N17.3 billion against the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in a patent rights suit filed against it by Bedding Holdings Limited.

The company had sued the electoral body for not seeking its consent as the owners of the patent over the use of a data capturing system and transparent and collapsible ballot boxes in Nigeria before awarding a contract for the supply of the electoral materials used in the 2011 general election.

The plaintiff claimed ownership of the patents and copyrights over the Proof of Address System Scheme, PASS, used in the gathering of biometric data as used by INEC in compiling the electronic voters register.

By awarding contracts for the electoral equipment over which he had patent right, Beddings Holding lawyers argued that his right was breached and demanded for over N17 billion compensation, half of the cost of all the items imported for the election, which it claimed would have been “minimum reasonable royalty accruable” to it.

The plaintiff had approached the court through his lawyer, John Okoriko, on November 25, 2010 seeking the following reliefs:

“A declaration that the plaintiff is the bona fide owner of the Patent Rights No. RP 16642 and Copyrights Designs No. RD 13841 in and over Electronic Collapsible Transparent Ballot Boxes (ECTBB) and Patent Rights No. RP NG/P/201-/202-Proof of Address System/Scheme (PASS) (Embedded with the Concept of the Coded Metal Plate) and the process and application of these products respectively to produce the Voter’s Register,

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“A declaration that the contract entered into between 1st and 2nd Defendants (INEC and its chairman, Attahiru Jega respectively) of the one part and the 4th-6th Defendants (Haier Electrical Appliances Corporation Limited, Zinox Technologies Limited and Avante International Technology Incorporation respectively) of the other part for the production, procurement, supply, acquisition, importation, purchase, receipt, sale of the Direct Data Capturing Machines, Laptops and/or the collation/compilation and production of the Voter’s Register for the 2011 general elections or any other elections without first seeking and obtaining the written license, consent and authority of the plaintiff is a flagrant infringement on the plaintiff’s Patent Rights No. RP 16642 and Copyrights Designs No. RD 13841 in and over Electronic Collapsible Transparent Ballot Boxes (ECTBB) and Patent Rights No. RP NG/P/201-/202-Proof of Address System/Scheme (PASS) (Embedded with the Concept of the Coded Metal Plate),

“A declaration that the plaintiff is entitled to 50% of the total contract sum of N34, 517.640,000.00 (Thirty Four Billion, Five Hundred and Seventeen Million, Six Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira Only), which is N17, 258, 820,000.00 (Seventeen Billion. Two Hundred and Fifty Eight Million, Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand Naira Only) being the minimum reasonable royalty accruable to the plaintiff for the production, , procurement, supply, acquisition, importation, purchase, receipt, sale of the Direct Data Capturing Machines, Laptops and/or the collation/compilation and production of the Voter’s Register for the 2011 general elections or any other elections by the Defendants (particularly the 4th-6th defendants) without first seeking and obtaining the written license, consent and authority of the plaintiff who is the bona fide patentee of the Patent and Deigns in and over the process and application of the said products respectively to produce the Voter’s Register,

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“An order compelling the Defendants to obtain the plaintiff’s written license, consent and authority forthwith for the production, supply, supply, acquisition, importation, purchase, procurement, receipt, sale of the Direct Data Capturing Machines, Laptops and/or any other equipment ancillary to, or associated with the process and application of the said products respectively to produce the Voter’s Register as the bona fide patentee of the patent and Designs Rights over the said process and application of these products respectively to produce the Voter’s Register.”

The presiding judge, Ibrahim Auta, in granting all the reliefs sought by the plaintiff, ruled that “the patent clearly belongs to the plaintiff as the defendants have failed to prove otherwise.”

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The Judge also held according to Section 6, sub section 1(b) of the Patent and Designs Act of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, that the patent right of the plaintiff was breeched by the award of contract by INEC to other suppliers without entering into agreement with plaintiff.

A High Court presided over by Justice Adamu Bello, on June 5 held that the firm was the lawful owner of the patent rights for the ballot boxes and declared as illegal the use of the materials for the 2011 general elections without the consent of the plaintiff.

The court, in the judgment, also barred INEC from using the boxes for any subsequent election, including the Edo State gubernatorial poll, without first obtaining the approval of Bedding Holdings Limited.

However, INEC had flouted this order and had gone to use the said ballot boxes for the conduct of the 2011 general elections and the 2012 Edo State governorship election.

INEC is prohibited henceforth by today’s judgement from using any of the above listed patented products for elections without the express permission of the plaintiff.

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