High Court Dismisses Judicial Review Application in “ZERO B” Trade Mark Dispute

Zero-B

This blogger has come across a recent judgment by the High Court in the case of Republic v Anti-Counterfeit Agency & 2 others Ex parte Surgippharm Limited [2015] eKLR. A copy of the judgment is available here. In this case previously highlighted here, Surgipharm Limited went to the High Court seeking judicial review orders to prohibit the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) from carrying out its enforcement mandates under the Anti-Counterfeit Act. Following a complaint against by Wiskam against Surgippharm, the Chief Magistrate’s Court, Nairobi granted ACA a warrant of entry, search and seizure was issued against Surgippharm with regard to the alleged counterfeiting activity.

While Surgippharm admits that Wiskam is the registered holder of the “ZERO -B” trademark in Kenya, Wiskam failed to disclose to ACA and the Magistrates’ Courts that Surgippharm had initiated proceedings for the expungement of the mark with the Registrar of Trade Marks at Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI). Surgippharm also alleges that Wiskam also failed to disclose that had already commenced proceedings in the high court of Kenya seeking, inter alia, for an injunction order and an award of damages against Surgippharm, being HCCC NO. 542 of 2011.

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KIPI Registrar Rules to Expunge “KENYA BOYS CHOIR” Trade Mark

Furahia Album Cover Kenyan Boys Choir dot com

In the spirit of this year’s music-themed World IP Day, this blogger has opted to share a recent ruling: In the Matter of Trade Mark No. KE/T/2010/67586 “KENYA BOYS CHOIR” (WORDS) in Classes 16 and 41 in the Name of Joseph Muyale Inzai and Expungement Proceedings Thereto by Kenyan Boys Choir delivered by the Assistant Registrar of Trade Marks at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI).

In 2010, one Joseph Muyale Inzai filed an application to register his trade mark “KENYA BOYS CHOIR” (WORDS) before the Registrar of Trade Marks in classes 16 and 41 of the Nice Classification. The mark was approved, published and thereafter entered in the Register of Trade Marks in 2010. In the same year, Members of a choir known as Kenyan Boys Choir obtained registration of their business names “THE KENYAN BOYS CHOIR” and “THE BOYS CHOIR OF KENYA” under the Registration of Business Names Act.
These Members of the Kenyan Boys Choir filed an application for expungement of the mark claiming that they were aggrieved by the entry of the mark for various reasons including that they were the true owners of the mark: “KENYAN BOYS CHOIR” which was virtually identical to the mark in question: “KENYA BOYS CHOIR”.

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ARIPO Swakopmund Protocol on Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore Enters into Force in May 2015

children-circle

As many readers may recall, the Member States of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) adopted the Swakopmund Protocol on the protection of traditional knowledge and expressions of folklore on August 9, 2010 at Swakopmund in the Republic of Namibia. Section 27 of the Protocol provides that it shall come into force three (3) months after six (6) states have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession with the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Since the adoption of the Protocol, the following five (5) states have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession: Botswana, Zimbabwe, The Gambia, Rwanda and Malawi. The sixth and final ratification was deposited (fittingly one might add) by Namibia on February 11, 2015. Therefore, the Swakopmund Protocol shall enter into force on May 11, 2015.

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Litigation Imminent in “Equitel” Trade Mark Dispute: Equitel Insurance Agency v. Equity Group Holdings Ltd

Equitel SIM

According to media reports here, Finserve Africa Limited, a subsidiary of the multi-billion shilling Equity Group Holdings Ltd has been threatened with court action by Equitel Insurance Agency Ltd over the use of the name “Equitel” in connection with its telecommunication network operated using the now controversial ‘thin SIM’ technology. It is reported that Equitel has issued Equity with a cease and desist notice in which the former terms as unlawful the use of its trade mark which includes the name “Equitel” by Equity. Therefore Equitel has reportedly demanded that Equity desist from using the trade mark, including withdrawal of all publicity and advertising materials that contain this word.

In reply to Equitel’s claims, it is reported that Equity’s counsel stated in a letter as follows:-

“Our client is the proprietor of Equity Insurance Agency registered as such in 2007, to provide insurance services to its customers. Therefore, registration of Equitel Insurance Agency was targeted to misrepresent to the public that it was offering our client’s insurance services (….) The mere fact that your client may have been the first to register the trade name does not override the common law protection of the name, goodwill and reputation amassed by our client over the years”

In this connection, it is reported that Equity accused Equitel of using insider knowledge to set up its operations, given that it was an account holder at the bank and had first-hand experience of the services Equity Insurance was offering and, therefore, sought association in the registration of its own business name.

This blogger will be keenly following this dispute in the event the matter is not settled amicably and ends up before the courts for determination.

“Share A Coke” Campaign in Kenya: Intellectual Property Risk or Marketing Masterstroke?

Share a Coke with IPKenya

Ever since the “Share a Coke” campaign kicked off in Kenya earlier this month, thirsty fans countrywide have been clamouring to find their names on bottles of Coca-Cola. Some have struck gold, while others have left the store empty-handed. As many may already know, Coca Cola’s hugely successful international promotion “Share A Coke” originally started in Australia in 2011 and has since been rolling out around the world, making its African premiere in South Africa towards the end of 2013. This promotion, targetted mainly at teens and millennials, is intended to allow people to take the Coca-Cola script and replace it with their name on a bottle or can of the well-known beverage. For those with less popular or rare names, the digital version of the “Share a Coke” promotion allows users to create a virtual can with their names which is generated in .png format and available for download and social media sharing.

From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, this ‘de-branding’ campaign by Coca Cola is an eye-opener. It is no secret that the Coca-Cola Company has spent billions of dollars registering, protecting and enforcing its IP rights all over the world. For years, “Coca-Cola”, “Coke”, the Contour Bottle Design and the Dynamic Ribbon Device have been registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company. Having gone to such lengths to secure its IP rights, the Coca-Cola Company suddenly ditches the iconic “Coca-Cola” name from its bottles and allows the printing of names and other words on its products?!
Clearly, the Sales and Marketing guys in the room overpowered the Legal types when the idea for this ‘de-branding’ campaign was pitched and approved. While it is hard for an IP lawyer to quantify the risks of free-riding, diminishing distinctiveness, dilution and other harm to the Company’s trade marks as a result of “Share A Coke” campaign, the Sales and Marketing guys will have no problem showing how the campaign has boosted sales, provided the Company with enormous amounts of user-generated promotional content and driven traffic to the Company’s web and social media platforms.

This blogger recently visited Kenya’s “Share A Coke” website and created a virtual can, which is pictured above and available online here: https://ke.shareacokeafrica.com/can/Ipkenya. However, when one looks at the Terms of Use on the site available here, there are two IP-related issues which appear not to have been addressed:

1. What happens when a user creates a virtual can which contains a name which is a third party’s IP rights? The Terms of Use on the site ought to clearly prohibit the use of such names otherwise it may end up being held liable. In this regard, Coca-Cola ought to exercise its best discretion in determining which names may be infringing on third party IP rights.

2. What happens when a user makes commercial use of a virtual can without regard to Coca Cola’s IP rights? The Terms of Use ought to clearly state that the cans are for personal use only, including sharing on social media sites. Additionally, the Terms ought to prohibit any selling of the virtual can or the image on the COKE can. More importantly, the Terms should be explicit that the use of the site to generate a virtual can does not have the effect of granting rights in any of the intellectual property on the COKE bottles and cans, including the rendering of the names.

Finally, this blogger would invite readers to share any IP-related commentaries and articles on the “Share A Coke” campaign.

Kenya’s Leading IP Professionals According to 2015 Edition of World Trademark Review 1000

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“As more and more companies look to Africa for strategic growth, and as intellectual property (IP) becomes increasingly important to the continent’s economic agenda, trade mark activity in Kenya – the gateway to the East African market – has flourished.” – World Trademark Review 1000 – The World’s Leading Trademark Professionals.

In a previous blogpost titled “Fading Giants and Rising Stars: Opinion on Performance of Intellectual Property Law Firms in Kenya”, we considered some eleven Kenyan law firms known to have established IP practices, namely Kaplan & Stratton Advocates (K&S), Hamilton Harrison and Mathews Oraro Advocates (HHM Oraro), Iseme Kamau & Maema Advocates (IKM), Ndungu Njoroge & Kwach Advocates (NNK), Coulson Harney Advocates (CH), Daly & Figgis Advocates (D&F), Gichachi & Company Advocates (G&C), Simba & Simba Advocates (SS), J.K Muchae & Company Advocates (JKM), CFL Advocates (CFL) and Muriu Mungai & Company Advocates (MMC Africa). From the data presented, it was clear that the erstwhile dominance of K&S has receded with CH leading the way in trade mark prosecutions.

WTR 1000 2015 Firm Rankings kenya This week the 2015 World Trademark Review 1000 rankings were published online here. These WTR 1000 rankings confirm this blogger’s view to the effect that “heightened competition has raised standards even higher across the board.” Nine firms made it to this year’s WTR 1000 list ranked as follows: 1. CH (Gold); 2. IKM (Gold); 3. K&S (Gold); 4. CFL (Silver); 5. D&F (Silver); 6. HHM Oraro (Silver); 7. MMC Africa (Silver); 8. NN&K (Silver) and 9. S&S (Silver).

Among the three Gold Band firms in Kenya, CH’s review is the longest and most praiseworthy. The first two sentences alone of CH’s review contain a litany of superlatives like “unmatched”, “frontrunner” and “brightest” while CH’s Head of IP, John Syekei is described as “enormously popular throughout the region”. Syekei is once again ranked in the Gold Band of WTR 1000 Individuals behind IKM’s William Maema and K&S’s Peter Hime, who remains the top ranked IP professional in Kenya.

With its recent merger, HHM Oraro has become the largest firm in Kenya (17 Partners) and now has a whooping total of about ten (10) IP-savvy lawyers on its roster. This blogger expects HHM Oraro to attain the coveted Gold Band ranking if the merger is able to capitalise on its size and expertise to secure consistent big ticket commercial IP work. HHM Oraro’s swanky new website is available here.

It is impressive that CFL is ranked first among the Silver Band firms, which is truly a testament to the outstanding job being done by IP Partner Lorna Mbatia. Mbatia is credited with building “excellent relations with a raft of prominent US law firms, as well as top players in South Africa” which has made CFL “one of the fastest-growing trademark practices around.” According to WTR 1000 sources, Mbatia “has forged close ties with key personnel at different IP registries across East Africa; as a result, she is a great choice for clients with regional requirements.”

MMC Africa’s review stands out among all other ranked firms given its creative approach to IP practice. According to WTR 1000 sources, MMC has moved from being “reliant on instructions from foreign companies” to “fielding requests from an increased number of locals, thanks to its extensive non-billable work in educating domestic entities on the importance of trademark protection”. MMC’s IP Team is led by Nancy Karanu who is credited as an “effective motivator of her team” and “forward-thinking associate” Peter Kamero. Kudos to MMC’s Kamero who is the only Associate in the WTR 1000 Individuals rankings.

WTR 1000 2015 Individuals Rankings Kenya

This blogger wonders whether D&F, a newcomer on the WTR 1000 list, will survive the fierce competition among IP law practices. In this regard, many will recall the exodus of four key partners from D&F to CH in late 2014, including Njau Mukuha who is cited by the WTR 1000 as the Partner who “oversees the IP practice” at D&F. As D&F regroups, the three-way contest between indigenous firms NNK, G&C and SS will continue for the top spot among the Silver Band law firms.

Quick Thoughts on “Zindua Cafe”: Safaricom’s New Idea Submission Portal

zindua cafe safaricom homepage

This week, Safaricom launched “Zindua Cafe”, an idea submission web portal which allows registered users to submit ideas, applications or prototypes to Safaricom Limited, Kenya’s leading mobile network operator. Once these submissions are made to Safaricom, the telecommunication giant will review them internally and send either a ‘interested’ or a ‘regret’ response to the user. If Safaricom is ‘interested’ in any submission, the user will be offered a non-disclosure agreement and commmercial contract governing Safaricom’s intended implementation of the submission.

Having taken Zindua Cafe for a test-run, this blogger has a few thoughts on Safaricom’s new innovation portal:-

1. Intellectual property (IP) advice: Zindua Cafe is an excellent source for unsolicited legal advice on IP rights protection. The portal reads in part: “We strongly recommend that you patent your idea or get your IP in place”. The portal then explains the distinction between WIPO, KIPI and KECOBO and provides links to their respective websites. In the case of IP- protected submissions, the terms of use on the portal clearly state that users “irrevocably grant Safaricom the unrestricted right or license to use any idea or material [submitted] for the purpose of improving it, assessing its viability and determining its progression to the next stage within the Innovation Cycle”. In this regard, users of the portal agree that such use by Safaricom under the above license “shall not be deemed a violation of the user’s rights or the rights of any third party or give rise to any claim based on such alleged violation.”

2. Proof of IP protection: Zindua Cafe requires users to disclose whether submissions are protected as patents, trade marks or copyright in addition to providing the registration numbers of any certificates received from WIPO, KIPI and KECOBO. Copies of these certificates must also be submitted by users. This is a really smart way for Safaricom to establish the extent of IP protection involved in all submissions made on the portal. More importantly, Safaricom is in a better position to determine what steps would be necessary to exploit and/or acquire any intellectual property rights in the submissions.

zindua cafe safaricom brewing ideas

3. What’s the big idea?: As part of the submission process, Zindua Cafe requires users to provide a name for the idea/product/service/solution and select the applicable industry from a list including Agriculture, Education, Energy, Entertainment, Financial Services, Health, ICT, Manufacturing, Retail, Transport, among others. This section also requires the users to describe the idea/product/service/solution in 200 characters as well as explaining the need/problem that will be solved by the idea. Finally, users are required to itemise any similar or competing ideas/products/services/solutions already in the market and explain why their submissions are better! This is a really smart way for Safaricom to reduce on the amount of time spent in meetings with people pitching their ideas.

So, what do the users get in return after going through this rigourous 3-step submission process? Nothing. The terms and conditions of use on the portal ensure that Safaricom is fully protected from any claims arising from users and third parties while imposing several obligations on users including indemnity to Safaricom, assurance to Safaricom of IP ownership, among others.

Following the Vodacom “Please Call Me” case in South Africa and the numerous IP infringement cases involving Safaricom here in Kenya, this blogger applauds the move to introduce Zindua Cafe particularly because of the emphasis the portal places on protection of IP by its users prior to submitting their creative and innovative ideas to Safaricom.

What remains to be seen is whether this new portal for brewing ideas will deter future innovators and creators from bringing IP-related suits against Safaricom.