The end to the eight-year long battle between Commandclem Nigeria Limited and Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited, over ownership of patent and intellectual rights to a chemical invention for offshore drilling seems in sight.
Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, MPNU, is in serious trouble over allegations of theft of the intellectual property rights belonging to a Nigerian company, Commandclem Nigeria Limited, CNL. From the way things are turning out with the expected final deposition of CNL’s case ruling on August 19, at the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, MPNU may cough out as much as $8trillion, as compensation to Clement Uwemedimo, proprietor of CNL, an agronomist who is believed to be the owner of the oil drilling invention.
Trouble brewed in 1980, with the alleged inability of MPNU to come up with an anti-corrosive chemical to neutralize the salinity of the Qua Iboe Terminal, QTI, terrain for their offshore operations. Before this time however, activities of the oil prospecting company were confined to on-shore drilling. According to Jimmy Akpan, CNL coordinator for the Western states of Nigeria, Uwemedimo brokered an agreement with MPNU in 1980, to develop an ante-dote that would neutralize the effect of salinity on the pipes that were pile-driven into the seas for oil prospecting. Accordingly, he was said to have invented an Anti-Corrosive Special Paint for QIT, processed by International Paints West Africa, IPWA, and which Mobil found to be effective in solving the Problems of their Offshore drilling operations at the QIT. Thereafter, MPNU asked for 75 barrels of the product and wrote to CNL, insisting that it wanted to formalize its relationship with Uwemedimo, apparently to review the oral understanding of the $2 per barrel of oil that MPNU was able to drill with the help of his invention. Harry Hawkins, Mobil’s representative at that time, who is now 80 years old and has a pacemaker attached to his heart allegedly signed a letter to that effect. Much later however, MPNU allegedly reneged on the oral agreement as well as the contractual agreement it had with Uwemedimo by bypassing him and started to deal directly with IPWA. That was not all. MPNU was also said to have stolen the formula from IPWA to the US and decoded it. The company began to produce the paint in large quantities and claimed the patent rights and royalties to the anti-corrosive special paint for QIT from all oil prospecting companies across the world that use the anti-corrosive product to coat their oil drilling pipes. CNL has joined representatives of these companies in Nigeria in the matter before the Federal High Court, Uyo, as co-defenders.
The ensuing legal battle over the ownership of the intellectual property began in July, 2000, and has taken place in Nigeria up to the Supreme Court and in the Nigerian Embassy in the United States. Before the Supreme Court decided in CNL’s favour and referred the case, back to the Federal High Court in Uyo Akwa-Ibom, there had been counter-claims by Mobil through its representatives. Arinze Agbun, a consultant with MPNU argued that his former employers used a branded product from Holland for painting their offshore and onshore structures. According to Agbun, formerly executive director with MPNU, ‘it cannot be true that Mobil promised him $2 per barrel of every product produced by them. The only payment we make on a per barrel of oil or gas is royalty which is a statutory payment required by government. The statutory royalty is made to the department of petroleum resources, DPR, of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, now called Federal Ministry of Energy’’, he said under examination. In addition, another employee of MPNU, Cyriul Odu, geologist and executive director, denied that his company committed to make payments out of future production for any goods and services it receives, even though he admitted that he was not a part of Mobil’s decision making-processes at that time. Reliable sources told the magazine that MPNU representatives offered one billion dollars to Uwemedimo’s company, CNL, to drop the case. According to Akpan, CNL did not nibble what they said they suspected was bait. This decision did not go down well with prominent members of Ikot-Eket, Uwemedimo’s community who are angry that that amount of money could help take care of some of the needs of the town, which included regular power supply, good roads and potable water.
CNL applied for and got government nod of the Non Convention Patent NO RP 13522 in 1999, apparently establishing it as owner of the intellectual rights to the chemical in question. Perhaps as measure of its confidence that it will triumph at the end of the bitter struggle, CNL has already rolled out plans on how it intends to spend monies accruable to it from the case. It said that registered patentees to CNL stand a chance of receiving N30,000.00 monthly for the rest of their lives if they subscribe to his patent right. Akpan also said that they already set up a foundation, King Clement Foundation, with which they intend to use royalties accruing to CNL to establish 155 cottage industries and 40 new industrial towns for developmental purposes across Nigeria. They claim that they are neither stock market, wonder bank nor a networking outfit.
Keen watchers of developments in the nation’s oil industry hold prospecting companies responsible for years of neglect of the needs of the communities where they prospect. The long-term effect of this neglect has been the escalation of incidences of violence and hostage taking by militant youths of the Niger Delta. Amidst growing concerns that wealth accruable to the nation was not being put to developmental projects, some corporate bodies recently organized an international seminar in Abuja, Nigeria, to draw attention to the oil problem. Nevertheless, what the fierce legal battle over ownership of the anti-corrosive special paint for QIT, between MNPU and CNL shows is that the issues go beyond problems associated with environmental pollution and degradation of the Niger Delta.