ARIPO Roving Seminars 2015: Copyright and Industrial Property Rights in Kenya

ARIPO Roving Seminar 2015 Kenya Director-General Fernando Dos Santos ARIPO Chief Examiner Emmanuel Sackey KECOBO Director Marisella Ouma Victor Nzomo IP Kenya

As earlier advertised here, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) successfully executed its on-going series of Region-wide “Roving Seminars” in Kenya with the first two days (Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th of March 2015) being devoted to copyright matters under the theme: “Copyright in the Digital Environment” and last two days (Thursday 19th and Friday 20th of March 2015) being devoted to industrial property matters under the theme: “Protection and Promotion of Patents, Trade Marks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications”.

In his opening remarks, ARIPO Director General Mr. Fernando Dos Santos brought to our attention the important role Kenya has played as a pioneer ARIPO member state. For those who may not know, when ARIPO was established, its first headquarters were hosted at the Attorney General’s Chambers (Sheria House) in Nairobi before later relocating to its present headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe. Therefore the DG described coming to Kenya and visiting Sheria House as “coming home” since this was his first visit to Kenya since taking office as Director General in 2013.

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Revisiting Registrar’s Ruling in Weetabix v. Multibix Trade Mark Dispute

weetabix multibix oatibix ip kenya

Recent media reports indicate that United Kingdom-based cereals maker Weetabix Limited has asked the High Court to bar a Kenyan company Manji Food Industries from marketing one of its products—Multibix—arguing that the name infringes on its rights under the law of trade marks and as a result Weetabix has suffered or will suffer loss and damage.

In the suit papers filed at the High Court, Weetabix has reportedly contended that: “Manji Food Industries has put up on the Kenyan market whole grain biscuits not of Weetabix’s manufacture bearing the name Multibix, that is a deceptive imitation of the well-known products of the plaintiff namely Weetabix and Oatibix”

In reply, it reported that Manji has denied the allegations by Weetabix, arguing that the Multibix brand is not intended to confuse consumers of Weetabix’s products and that it is an independent brand with its own following.

The Kenyan cereals manufacturer reportedly contended in its replying affidavit that:

“Manji admits that it manufactures, packs and distributes its product known as Multibix, but denies that it does the same deceptively to imitate Weetabix’s products. Manji denies that it is passing off its product as that of Weetabix or that it has led to confusion”

As many readers may be aware, Weetabix successfully opposed an attempt by Manji to register ‘Multibix’ as a trademark. A copy of the ruling by the Registrar of Trademarks in this matter is available here.

Despite this ruling, it is reported that Manji has continued marketing its product using the Multibix name which Weetabix argues infringes on its well-known trademarks, Weetabix and Oatibix. In this connection, Manji contends that it had lodged an intended appeal against the decision of the Registrar in the opposition proceedings. In reply, Weetabix reportedly asserted that “An intended appeal is not an appeal. An appeal is not in any way a stay of the decision of the registrar and therefore this decision is unchallenged”.

In light of the above, this blogpost revisits some of the salient findings of the Registrar’s ruling in a bid to provide necessary context for Manji’s appeal and Weetabix’s current suit against Manji.

The facts of In Re TMA No. 66428 “MULTIBIX”, Opposition by Weetabix Ltd, 31 August 2012 are briefly that Manji Food Industries Limited lodged an application for registration of trade mark KE/T/2009/066428 “MULTIBIX” (a word mark). The mark was applied for in class 30 in respect of “biscuits”. The Registrar of Trade Marks duly examined the mark in accordance with the provisions of the Trade Marks Act Cap 506 of the Laws of Kenya and the mark was approved and published in the Industrial Property Journal on 30th April 2010 on page 20.

Thereafter, Weetabix Limited filed a Notice of Opposition against registration of the mark. According to the registrar, there were two issues for determination, namely:

1. Is Manji’s mark “MULTIBIX” so similar to the Weetabix’s mark “Weetabix” as to cause a likelihood of confusion in contravention of the provisions of section 14 of the Trade Marks Act?

2. Is Weetabix’s mark “WEETABIX” a well-known mark in Kenya and therefore deserving of protection under section 15A of the Trade Marks Act?

Regarding the first issue, the Registrar relies on the test set out in the American case of Eli Lily & Co v Natural Answers Inc 233, F. 3d 456 to determine whether or not marks are similar. In that case, some of the factors to consider include:
(a) The strength of the complainant’s mark;
(b) Similarity between the marks in appearance and suggestion;
(c) The degree of care likely to be exercised by consumers; and
(d) The area and manner of concurrent use of the products.

On the claim of similarity between the marks in appearance, the Registrar makes the following finding:

“The common element between the two marks “WEETABIX” and “MULTIBIX” is the suffix “BIX” which is also a registered mark of the Opponents. The term “BIX” is not an English word and is a creation of the Opponents, which I had earlier indicated that it is a strong mark. The Applicants’ mark is comprised of the word “MULTI” and the said suffix “BIX”. I am therefore of the view that the two marks are similar in appearance.”

In determining the first issue of the opposition proceedings, the Registrar states:

“I disagree with the Applicants when they state that the respective goods of the Opponents and the Applicants are different. It is my view that the goods in respect of which the Opponents have registered their aforementioned marks are goods of the same description as the goods in respect of which the Applicants are seeking to register their mark “MULTIBIX”. This means that both the goods of the Applicants and the Opponents would be sold in the same trade channels thus enhancing the likelihood of confusion or deception. It has long been held that the closer the relationship between particular goods, the more likely any similarity in their respective trade marks would prove deceptive. For this reason, and having held that the marks are similar, then it follows that registration of the Applicants’ mark “MULTIBIX” would be against the provisions of the Trade Marks Act.

Having considered all the relevant factors in regard to similarity of the marks and having considered the two word marks and all the circumstances of these opposition proceedings as stated by Parker J in the aforementioned Pianotist’s Application, I have come to the conclusion that the two marks “WEEETABIX” and “MULTIBIX” are similar and that entry of both marks in the Register of Trade Marks would be a contravention of the provisions of sections 14 and 15(1) of the Trade Marks Act.”

The second and final issue for determination by Registrar was whether “WEETABIX” is a well-known mark in Kenya and therefore deserving protection under the provisions of section 15A of the Act. The Registrar relies on the test for well-known marks set out in the UK case referred to as Oasis Ltd’s Trade Mark Application, where the Court set out the factors to consider namely:
(1) the inherent distinctiveness of the earlier trade mark;
(2) the extent of the reputation that the earlier mark enjoys;
(3) the uniqueness or otherwise of the mark in the market place;
(4) the range of goods or services for which the earlier mark enjoys reputation; and
(5) whether or not the earlier trade mark will be any less distinctive for the goods or services for which it has a reputation than it was before.

In applying the above case, the Registrar arrives at the following finding:

“I am of the view that the Applicants have submitted adequate evidence to indicate that the mark “WEETABIX” has gained such a reputation in the Kenyan market for the mark to be considered well known in Kenya. The said reputation has been gained through promotion and marketing of the said mark on the various media in Kenya and the trade mark “WEETABIX” has come to be only associated with the goods offered for sale by the Opponents.

(….)

In the aforementioned statutory declaration sworn by Richard Martin and filed on behalf of the Opponents, it is indicated that the Opponents’ mark “WEETABIX” together with the aforementioned variants has been registered in numerous jurisdictions of the world. The Opponents have also attached a number of certificates to indicate that their said mark is registered and subsisting in the Register of Trade Marks in the respective jurisdictions. Further, there is an indication as to the various countries where the Applicants’ goods bearing the mark “WEETABIX” have been marketed. In Kenya, the trade mark “WEETABIX” was entered in the Register of Trade Marks with effect from 28th June 1954. This means that the said mark “WEETABIX” has been in the Register of Trade Marks in Kenya for the last fifty-eight (58) years. Further, records at the Registry of Trade Marks indicate that the Opponents have registered several other marks that comprise the suffix “BIX” and which are still subsisting in the Register of Trade Marks.

Further, and as earlier indicated, the mark has been used in the Kenyan market for over thirty (30) years now. In my view, the above-mentioned registrations and use in several jurisdictions including Kenya indicate that the mark is well known. In conclusion and after considering all the relevant factors, it is my opinion that the mark “WEETABIX” is quite well known in Kenya and deserves protection under the provisions of section 15A of the Trade Marks Act.”

As a result, the Registrar found that Weetabix was successful in its opposition of Manji’s application therefore the MULTIBIX application would not proceed to registration. The Registrar also awarded the costs of the opposition proceedings to Weetabix.

With this background in mind, this blogger will be keenly following the developments in the dispute before the High Court.

L’Oréal Acquires Nice & Lovely Trademark in Multi-Billion Shilling Deal

Media reports (here, here and here) indicate that the world’s largest multinational cosmetics company L’Oréal has acquired Kenya’s Interconsumer Products Ltd’s flagship Nice & Lovely brands, in a multi-million dollar acquisition reported this past week.

L’Oréal opened shop in Nairobi in late 2011 and has for the past 18 months been in talks with Interconsumer Products Ltd for a buyout deal. To facilitate the conclusion of the deal, Interconsumer Products Ltd transferred the beauty division to a new company dubbed Interworld Cosmetics, which has now been acquired by L’Oreal. The French based cosmetics giant has now renamed the new business Interbeauty Products.

This blogger salutes Interconsumer Products Managing Director Mr. Paul Kinuthia. We have all read the story of how Mr. Kinuthia grew his business from a modest sole proprietorship in the late 1990s to a major cosmetics manufacturer in East Africa. This success story of Interconsumer Products Ltd is even more significant and instructive when viewed from an intellectual property (IP) perspective.

The mark NICE and LOVELY was registered in favour of Interconsumer Products Ltd at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) in 2002 but had been in use by Interconsumer since 1999. From this date onwards, Interconsumer has been actively policing its intellectual property rights in the NICE AND LOVELY mark particularly as its products begun to gain prominence not just in Kenya but in neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda.

In 2004, Interconsumer moved to the Commercial Division of Uganda’s Commercial Court to seeking restrain Nice & Soft Investments Ltd., its servants and/or agents and/or distributors from manufacturing, selling or exposing for sale or in any way dealing in cosmetics using the names “Nice & Soft”. This case was reported as Interconsumer Products Ltd V Nice & Soft Investments Ltd (2003) Miscellaneous Application No. 256 Of 2004 (available here and here). In this case Interconsumer alleged, inter alia that the respondents without any form of authority were selling cosmetics goods in Uganda under the mark “Nice & Soft” and had attempted to register a trademark under the said names to the detriment of Interconsumer. Therefore, Interconsumer argued that it’s trademark was in danger of being wasted and irreparably damaged by virtue of such use by the respondent who is selling inferior goods similar to those of Interconsumer. On the question of whether there was trademark infringement, the court noted that the respondent’s application for registration was before the Registrar of Trademarks prior to the filing by Interconsumer of the suit which suit does not aver that it is a challenge to registration. On the question of whether there was passing off, the court found that the Interconsumer pleaded the ingredients of passing off, namely the acquired reputation. The actions taken by Interconsumer to protect its NICE AND LOVELY trademark in Uganda are instructive and must be borne in mind when considering the amount L’Oréal has just paid to acquire this well-known mark.

However before this acquisition deal, many will remember that in Interconsumer had previously locked horns with L’Oréal in both the Ugandan and Kenyan courts over the NICE AND LOVELY trademark. In the Ugandan case reported as L’Oreal and Another vs Interconsumer Products Ltd Application no. 13 of 2006 (available here), L’Oreal moved to the Commercial Division of the High Court to review the decision of the Registrar of Trademarks setting aside opposition proceedings and granting registration of two trademarks, SMOOTH & LOVELY and NICE and LOVELY applied for by Interconsumer.

In the Kenyan case, L’Oréal once more moved to the High Court to challenge the decision of the Registrar of Trademarks in rejecting its opposition of the registration of the mark NICE & LOVELY HERBAL OIL MOISTURIZER by Interconsumer. In a ruling delivered last year on 21st February, the High Court dismissed L’Oréal’s appeal against the decision of the Registrar rejecting L’Oreal’s opposition to the registration of the mark by Interconsumer. The court agreed with the Registrar on several important grounds including that the mark NICE & LOVELY was not similar to DARK AND LOVELY (owned by L’Oréal) and that there could be no confusion as defined under section 14 and 15 of the Trade Marks Act. The Court also agreed with the Registrar’s conclusion that L’Oreal had failed to show that its trademark was well known in Kenya. Furthermore, the Court agreed with the Registrar’s finding that the respondent had used the mark NICE and LOVELY since 1st March 1999 and the appellant had not tendered any evidence to show that it had objected to the use of the mark in the last five years. Therefore, the common law doctrine of honest concurrent use was applicable therefore both NICE & LOVELY and DARK AND LOVELY marks could co-exist in the Trademarks Register. A detailed synopsis of this unreported case is available over at the afroip blog here.

Viewed against the above backdrop, L’Oréal’s acquisition of NICE & LOVELY is an important lesson for trademark owners not only in Kenya but throughout the East African region. Interconsumer’s investment in registration and enforcement of its (IP) rights was a crucial factor in sealing this major buy-out deal.