This enigmatic US based Nigerian entrepreneur named Nicholas Opara recently won a trademark infringement action against the owner of the website nollywood.com over its unauthorized use of the term “Nollywood” in its website name.
Nollywood.com streamed online trailers and distributed Nigerian/African movies on DVD. The Nigerian/African movie industry is valued at $5.1Billion (indiewire reported in a recent article that the Nollywood Mobile Video Market is Worth More than US$7 Billion Annually see Shadow and Act article: Nollywood Mobile Video Market is Worth More than US$7 Billion Annually). This is the first time that Nicholas Opara of Washington State has taken legal action to protect his extremely valuable brand.
This infringement action was a result of the USPTO ruling on September 5th, 2014 reaffirming the ownership of the Nollywood trademark by Nicholas Opara. The trademark in question here (according to the USPTO Mr. Opara owns several “Nollywood” intellectual properties) is in classes 038 and 035 which includes Audio broadcasting, video broadcasting and multimedia content via the Internet and other communications networks.
From all indications, the infringement action was brought against the website nollywood.com after the owner and the website hosting company – Dotster Inc. – were offered a licensing deal. While the owner of the website refused to license the Nollywood trademark, the hosting company felt differently and capitulated to Mr. Opara’s request. The standard practice for major companies in trademark disputes is to quickly honor a Cease and Desist legal action from a valid trademark owner. This protects them from financial sanctions via a 3rd party claim by the trademark owner.
According to several news articles, it is clear that this development is squarely in the forefront of discussions within the Nigerian/African film industry and even the Nigerian Presidency. Emotions are quite charged on this topic. Nigerian Movie industry personalities have actually lost their composure and publicly made death threats towards Nicholas Opara (see Segun Arinze’s interview: An American journalist coined Nollywood). Segun Arinze’s threats were perhaps not the best civilized way to express his displeasure over a strictly business matter.
While some people will look at this development with trepidation and dismay, the USPTO ruling in Nicholas Opara’s favor sends a message that companies and websites cannot violate the trademark and other intellectual property rights of any individual. This ruling can now act as a catalyst to developing an intellectual property and brand framework that the Nigerian movie industry lacks.
What is missing in this whole dynamics is the input of forward thinking and obviously very private Nicholas Opara. So many questions remain to be answered by this man. I am sure the readers will agree. These questions include: What are his future plans for the Nollywood brand and these intellectual properties that he has acquired? Are the speculations in some circles true that he has been approached by the tech giants in the U.S.A like Google/Youtube, Microsoft and a group of ethnic Igbo Nigerian film industry investors to purchase his Nollywood trademark (note that companies like google/youtube/Microsoft cannot use the name on any of their video channels because they will be infringing on his trademark)? Has he been in touch with the Nigerian government/Nigerian movie practitioners regarding licensing or at least giving them first bid preference on purchasing the intellectual property? Can Nicholas Opara at least give an interview or press release regarding his game plan? And why is the present President of the actor’s guild of Nigeria – IB Fiberisima – not talking to him?
Regardless of how this saga unfolds, Nicholas Opara has positioned himself as a person to be reckoned within the Nigerian and African Movie Industry. His foresight by acquiring the Nollywood intellectual property makes him, for all intents and purposes, the gatekeeper of the Nollywood brand and the most powerful man in the African Film industry.