High Court Rules New Tobacco Law on Packaging, Labelling and Disclosure Does Not Violate Intellectual Property Rights

British American Tobacco Kenya

Previously, this blogger reported here that the High Court had suspended the coming into force of the Tobacco Control Regulations 2014 made by the Cabinet Secretary for Health scheduled to take effect on 1st June 2015. Recently in the case of British American Tobacco Kenya Ltd v Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Health & 4 others [2016] eKLR, Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi (known to many readers for her landmark decision on anti-counterfeit law and access to medicines here) delivered a judgment at the High Court dismissing claims by ‘Big Tobacco’ that their constitutional rights including intellectual property (IP) rights are being violated by the new Tobacco Regulations.

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Intellectual Property and Outdoor Advertising in Kenya

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Businesses often spend much time and money to create a successful advertising campaign. It is important to protect your intellectual property (IP) assets, so that others do not unfairly copy or free-ride upon your innovative creations.” – Lien Verbauwhede, WIPO.

Like in many parts of the world, the advertising sector in Kenya is the new battle-ground upon which businesses compete to creatively and uniquely pass on relevant information to customers so as to facilitate and positively influence their buying decisions. It is generally agreed that for an advertisement to be effective, it must first get noticed, and then be remembered long enough to persuasively communicate the unique selling proposition of a product or service, so as to make potential customers into actual ones. Outdoor advertising, in particular, is considered a cost effective way of giving messages the maximum exposure. Outdoor advertising includes billboards, outdoor signs, printed messaging, street banners, posters, brochures etc.

This blogger has noted an increase in the number of creative new outdoor advertisements by both medium-sized and large companies leading to a surge in the number of billboards along streets, highways in urban areas. Billboards are so far the preferred medium for outdoor advertising. there are several types of intellectual property rights that are involved in billboard advertising. For instance, most of the creative content on the billboard (writing, pictures, art, graphics, lay-out) may be protected by copyright along with any advertising slogans which may also be protected by trademark law.
In addition, industrial design law may be crucial for protection of billboards. Industrial designs cover the three dimensional form of billboards provided that such form gives a special appearance to a product of industry and can serve as a pattern for a product of industry. In the case of ENG Kenya Ltd v Magnate Ventures Ltd (2009), both the plaintiff and defendant carried on business in the outdoor advertising sector and the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had infringed on the plaintiff’s design for ‘suburban signs’. The court held that the registration of the plaintiffs’ design at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) was proof enough that the design was unique and capable of registration. The plaintiff could therefore claim exclusive right to the design. The court further stated that the defendant copied the plaintiffs’ design in bad faith.

For printing and branding companies, it is important to be very conscious of IP issues in their various advertising solutions. In this regard, the case of Alternative Media Ltd v Safaricom Ltd (2004) is instructive. The plaintiff, who is in the business of advertising graphic designing and media communication solutions, sued the defendant claiming copyright infringement on the plaintiff’s design that it had submitted to the defendant as a proposal to be used on the 250 airtime scratch cards. The court held that the defendant had indeed infringed on the plaintiff’s rights under copyright law because the design they used on their airtime scratch cards was substantially the same as the one submitted by the plaintiff to them as a proposal.

Another exciting area of outdoor advertising is transit advertising. This blogger has previously highlighted the Triple P Media project which involves advertising fused with high-quality custom-made audio and audio-visual content playing in public service vehicles (PSVs) countrywide, in addition to other public places like supermarkets, malls, banking halls, bars, clubs, restaurants etc. There is also the promising innovation by FlashCast Ventures, who have developed a method of scrolling advertisements via LCD displays installed in PSVs. These LCD screens are fitted with global positioning system devices hence messages are programmed to be location specific. This means it is possible to preset a commercial on a supermarket to run when the bus is within its proximity and broadcast special offers, promotions, and goods available. Although geo-local transit advertising may not meet the threshold of absolute novelty required for patent protection in Kenya, there may be other aspects of FlashCast that may be patentable or eligible for industrial design and utility model protection.