Trade Mark vs Company Name Registration: Innscor Int. Battles Rwandan Companies, Pizza Inn Ltd and Chicken Inn Ltd

innscor-international-rwanda-trademark-pizza-inn-chicken-limited-image-by-nlipw

In a recent media report here, the Commercial Court of Nyarugenge in Rwanda has ruled that it will not proceed with a case filed by Innscor International accusing two local companies Chicken Inn Limited and Pizza Inn Limited of trademark infringement in Rwanda. The basis of this ruling was reportedly that Innscor had not demonstrated to the court that it had “legal status according to the law governing registered entities in Rwanda”. Technicalities aside, it is clear that once Innscor produces its certificate of incorporation in court, this case would proceed to consider the merits of Innscor’s claim (as illustrated by the picture above), namely that registration of a name as a company name by entity A should not trump any rights in such a name acquired previously by entity B through trade mark law.

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Oh là là Lacoste: Crocodile International Trade Mark Awaiting Registration in Kenya

Lacoste SA Crocodile International trademark logo

Readers of this blog may be aware of the 50-year trade mark battle that has been going on between Lacoste S.A and Crocodile International PTE Ltd (“CIL”). These companies were formed about 10 years apart on opposite corners of the globe: one in France in 1933 and the other in Singapore in 1943. Historically, the battle has focused on Lacoste’s right-facing crocodile mark and CIL’s left-facing crocodile mark with trademark suits filed in numerous jurisdictions around the world.

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Conflicts between Trade Marks Registry and Companies Registry: High Court Ruling in JamboPay v Jambo Express Limited Case

jambopay

“…whereas the Companies Act deals with the registration of companies and the responsible office is the Registrar of companies, the Act is often to find itself in conflict with the Trade Marks Act for as longs as there is no interlink between the two Acts of Parliament in practical sense. The conflict arises this way. For instance, a trademark is registered in respect of a class of services may conflict with a trade name of a company or company with similar activities or services. This lack of coordination between registering authorities has caused and will continue to cause extreme anxiety to consumers of the two services as well as judges who will be called upon to resolve those conflicts which would otherwise have been avoided were it not for the unhealthy state of institutional operations.” – Justice F. Gikonyo in Webtribe Limited T/A Jambopay v Jambo Express Limited [2014] eKLR at para 15

This blogger has come across a recent ruling by the High Court in the case of Webtribe Limited T/A Jambopay v Jambo Express Limited [2014] eKLR. In this case, Webtribe went to court claiming that Jambopay Express Limited infringes on Webtribe’s trademark Jambopay. In support of its claim, Webtribe produced a certificate of registration of trademark stating that the latter is the registered proprietor of the trade mark number 67127 consisting of the word ‘Jambopay’ registered in class 36 which is valid and subsisting from the 17th December, 2009. Jambopay Express Limited refuted Webtribe’s claim and produced Certificate of Incorporation number CPR/2012/86453 stating that the latter is a company that was registered on 11th October, 2012.

Although the main subject of the suit was the alleged infringement of a trade mark as well as a challenge to the registration of a company, the learned judge restricted his ruling to determining whether Webtribe had met the legal thresholds to be granted its request for a temporary injunction. The court found against Webtribe’s application and stated as follows:

“…a just determination of the issues herein especially of the plaintiff’s [Webtribe’s] right and alleged infringement of trademark does not just depend on the registration of the Trademark ‘Jambopay’ by the plaintiff but includes determination of other issues such as whether the protection provided to the name “Jambopay” by the trademark registered in favour of the Plaintiff overrides the protection of the name “Jambopay Express Limited” secured through the registration of the name as a company; and whether the defendant’s [Jambopay Express Limited’s] intent in registration of its trade name was to cause confusion among consumers and to capitalize in the Plaintiff’s goodwill in the online payment services market. Equally, the circumstance in which the Defendant Company was registered is in the center of this suit and whether it is an infringement as alleged. In light thereof, the material before the court is not sufficient for the Court to issue an injunction.”

As many readers may know, the Trade Marks Registry and the Companies Registry were previously both under the State Law Office. Therefore when registering a trade mark or reserving a company name, it was easier to close reference either the Companies Registry database or the Trade Marks Registry database to see if there were any conflicts. This has since changed. The Trade Marks Registry is under KIPI while the Companies Registry remains under the State Law Office. This legislative and institutional separation has brought about many challenges and disputes for people who are registering companies or trade marks in Kenya. As a result there has been an increase in “name-squatting” which impedes business and trade markets in the country. In aiming to resolve these disputes, aggrieved parties are forced to approach the High Court for determination which ends up being both expensive and time-consuming.

In an earlier case: Agility Logistics Limited & 2 Others v. Agility Logistics Kenya Limited, the court was faced to a similar dispute as in the present JamboPay case. In the Agility case, the court found that the plaintiff’s trademark protection overrides the defendant’s protection by the Companies Act. The court also found that the defendant’s registration at the Companies Registry was opportunistic. In arriving at this holding, the court in the Agility case stated as follows:-

“My take on the two pieces of legislation is that whereas the Companies Act governs registration of company names, the fact of registration per se does not extend protection to the name of the company itself as does the protection provided by a trademark.

Further, it is also pertinently clear that the protection extended by a trademark transcends the face value of a name and inheres in the name a distinctiveness that is associated with the reputation and goodwill that the proprietor of the mark has invested and earned through creation of value, quality and trust. So much so that a customer or user of the service needs only see the mark and associate itself with certain expectations and standards. This is not the case with a company name which is only a mark of identity to the legal person that is the company. Although company names may eventually earn the notoriety, reputation and association with certain standards in like measure as do trademarks, the extent of exclusivity and protection of the company name, without registration of a mark, would still fall short of the standard of protection conferred by a trademark.

The upshot of the foregoing analysis is that in the present matter, the protection provided to the name “Agility” by the trademark registered in favour of the Plaintiffs by far overrides the protection of the name “Agility Logistics” secured through the mere registration of the name as a company. The exclusivity in the use of the name that is conferred upon the Plaintiff through the Kenyan registration of the mark and worldwide by virtue of the status of “well known mark” confers locus standi upon the Plaintiffs to sustain a claim for infringement of the mark that the Defendant cannot equally enjoy by virtue of registration of the company under the Companies Act.”

This blogger will be closely following the developments and eventual outcome of the JamboPay case.

Protection of Well Known Marks in Kenya

On this subject of well known marks, this blogger invites readers to listen to audio recordings of the presentations made by KIPI trade mark examiners during a workshop held in January 2014 available here. Readers may also wish to download Caroline Muchiri, Advocate’s powerpoint presentation made in February 2014 available here.

Below are my reactions (in bold) to some of the issues addressed in Caroline’s presentation

Read the full article here.

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.