Court Bars INEC's Use of Procured Ballot Boxes

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A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Tuesday barred the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from further use of the procured collapsible transparent ballot boxes used for the 2011 general elections as the electoral body procured the ballot boxes without the consent of the owners of the patent right to the boxes.

The presiding judge, Justice Adamu Bello, restrained the electoral umpire from further use of the patented collapsible transparent boxes in any subsequent elections without first seeking the approval of the patent owners.

These were contained in a judgment delivered in a suit filed by an indigenous company, Bedding Holdings Limited challenging the use of the boxes for the elections.

The company had approached the court contending that it has subsisting exclusive and bona fide patent right to the collapsible transparent boxes used by INEC for the conduct of the 2011 polls.

Bedding Holdings Limited which specialises in general fabrication and manufacture of steel metal products said the Collapsible Transparent Ballot Boxes were among many of its innovations duly registered with exclusive patent right issued to it by the Registrar of Patents in the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The Certificate of Registration of the Patent Right Number RP 12994 and Registration of Industrial Designs Rights Number RD 5946 on the boxes was issued by the Ministry to the company on January 12, 1998 for five year period..It was renewed and extended January 12, 2003 and extended January 12, 2008 respectively to expire in 2013.

It alleged that INEC violated its rights by its failure to seek its approval and consent before awarding the contract for the procurement of the boxes used for the 2011 general elections.

The Federal Executive Council, FEC, had on 24 November, 2010, following a memorandum by INEC, approved contract for the procurement 150,000 units of the ballot boxes at the unit price of N13,000 with total sum of N1.9 billion to EMCHAI Ltd.

Bedding Holdings had told the court that it was shocked to learn from the media on 25 November, 2010, that INEC, using fraudulently and falsely contrived documents, successfully sought and obtained the ratification of FEC for the award of the contract of yet another 150,000 units of the collapsible transparent ballot boxes without its prior consent, licence and authority being the rightful owner of the patent and copyright design.

Their lawyer, Mr. John Oworikoko had urged the court to hold that the contract as well as the use of the boxes in utter disregard to his client’s patent rights was contrary to the clear provisions of Section 6 (1), 19 and 25 of the Patent and Design Act, Cap P2 LFN, 2004.

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Justice Bello upheld the claims by the plaintiff and also declared as illegal a parallel patent right issued to EMCHAI over Envopak Ballot Boxes purportedly issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, sometime in 2006.

The judge held that the patent right of the Bedding Holding Limited over the ballot boxes took priority for and over the subsequent registration issued to EMCHAI.

“Any action or actions whatsoever and howsoever taken or purported to have been taken by INEC and other defendants relating to the ballot boxes without the prior and express licence, consent, authority and approval of the plaintiff is unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful and therefore null and void,” the court declared.

The name of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice was struck out of the suit on the ground that the office was in no way affected by the reliefs sought by the the company.

Other defendants in the suit are The Registrar of Patents, Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Emchai, Tambco United Ltd, Anowat Project and Resources Ltd., INEC and its Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega.

The judge granted all the reliefs sought in the suit on the ground that the facts and evidence preferred by Bedding Holdings Limited were neither controverted nor denied by the defendants.

He recalled that despite his order of substituted service of the court processes and several hearing notices served on the defendants, they failed to appear in court to defend the case.

Justice Bello had granted orders for substituted service through publication in The Nation Newspaper and subsequently by pasting the court processes on the Public Notice Board of the Court.

With this judgment barring further use of the collapsible transparent ballot boxes for future elections, the forthcoming governorship election in Edo state stands threatened if the electoral body fails to secure a valid license from the patent owners.

By Nnamdi Felix / Abuja