Impunity Or Smartness: How Trademark Infringement Is Hindering Brands In Uganda

Many brands in Uganda are suffering setbacks and stagnations because of the high rate of trademarks infringement in the country, which in most cases goes unchecked.

Many brands in Uganda are suffering setbacks and stagnations because of the high rate of trademarks infringement in the country, which in most cases goes unchecked.

The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is mandated by law to register all trademark and patents in Uganda, whether owned by local or foreign brands, and to regulate the usage of the same by manufacturers and or distributors of the patented products.

This is aimed at protecting consumers from being duped by unscrupulous traders, who might sell them counterfeit products disguised or packaged like those they buy from genuine manufacturers.

Regulating the usage of patented trademarks and symbols also helps manufacturers to have distinct products that cannot be confused with others on the market, such that their consumers can easily identify them.

The law about trademarks and patents states that Subject to sections 27, 28, and 37, where a person other than the owner of a patent or a licensee does any of the acts specified in section 25(1) in respect of the patented invention, that act shall constitute an infringement of the patent.

If the owner of a patent or the licensee is of the opinion that his or her patent has been or is about to be infringed, he or she may institute infringement proceedings in the High Court for the following relief—

Thereafter an injunction to prevent infringement or continuing infringement of the patent can be issued by court and any other civil remedy.

However, Uganda has in the recent past witnessed several cases of trademarks infringement whereby some companies either use similar patents, signs, and or symbols similar to those of others.

For instance, recently, Rachael Luwedde of Harris International launched a soda product called Sky Dew, which has a competitor on the market called Mountain Dew. The resemblance of the two product names and their packaging is bound to spark of confusion among consumers, who are likely to confuse the names of the products, which with time will make one of the products subject to product confusion.

According to social media rants by some sections of Ugandans, Riham, the Kawempe-based soft drinks manufacturer, uses advert designers or agencies that are disrespectful of its competitors’ products’ copyrights and trademarks.

The issue that sparked off the rant is the ‘Sky View’ advert that announces Harris International’s latest soda product, which social media activists said is almost a replica of the advert announcing ‘Mountain Dew’, a product of the rival Nakawa-based soft drinks manufacturer Crown Beverages Limited, producers of Pepsi-Cola and Mirinda among other brands.

John Edwin Danze, a Digital Marketer with NBS Television expressed concern over the advert when he posted the picture and captions: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Riham Cola Sky View aka poor man’s Mountain Dew. They took ‘Do the Dew’ very literally. How is this even legal!?” he asked.

Riham Cola Vs Coca-Cola
In 2013 a bitter patent battle broke out between Century Bottlers Limited, the manufacturers of Coca-Cola and Harris International, the manufacturers of Riham Cola, over the word ‘Cola’. Whereas Century Bottling Company insisted that ‘Cola’ was associated with one of their products, Coca-Cola, Harris International argued that ‘Cola’ was not a patented word and therefore anyone had a right to use.

Century Bottling Company ended up losing the battle to Harris International after the court ruled that the two companies should reach a common understanding through a settlement deed. The same was the case with the battle over Century Bottling Company’s ‘Fanta’ soda and Harris International’s ‘Riham Fun’ Time soda.

Later the Coca-Cola manufacturing Company and Harris International decided to settle the dispute after several negotiations through an arbiter in the Commercial Court. In a settlement signed on 5th November 2013, both companies decided not to pursue the case any further.

The Deed of Settlement of A Dispute they signed partly reads, “The parties hereto have held negotiations and have amicably agreed to have the dispute the subject of the suit settled.”

It however further adds, “…that the terms of settlement are confidential.” As part of the settlement, both companies also agreed to bear their own legal costs.

Considering the confidential nature of the case, no further details were provided on the case, explaining why company officials remain tight-lipped on the matter.

This case was born out of a suit in which the Coca-Cola Company sued Harris International over one of their products, Riham-Cola in May 2013. In submissions made to court, MMAKS Advocates, the Coca-Cola Company counsel had requested court to place a “permanent injunction restraining” Harris International for infringing on their trademark based on “distinctive features” that appear on Coca-Cola bottle. Riham Cola, a new soft drink – made in Uganda, in the market then was said to be branded in colours and packaging similar to that of Coca-Cola.

“In fact the advertisement and promotion of its products, the defendant has been and is also deliberately attempting to cause confusion and pass off its products as those of the plaintiff,” partly reads a summary of the case filed against Harris International.

There was use of strong words and phrases like “blatant and deliberate imitation” in the submission by the Coca-Cola lawyers, acts which they say amounted to “unlawful conduct.”

However, in their defense, done by Rezida Nangwala & Co. Advocates, Harris International disputed all allegations, in some incidences accusing The Coca-Cola Company of acting in bad faith when they filed the suit. But almost three months into production, the Riham Cola label colour was adjusted, albeit slightly, to avoid appearing to be similar to that of Coca-Cola.

The case would have gone for a hearing had the mediation talks failed, but for reasons best known to them, both companies avoided that.

Joseph Kanyamunyu

Joseph Kanyamunyu is the Founding Editor of the Publicist East Africa. He is a highly skilled and talented expert at PR & Brand reputation with more than fifteen years’ of demonstrated experience in brand architect & advocacy, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, supporting multiple brands, directing communications schemes relating to various audiences, providing creative solutions that address clients’ needs in both agency and in-house settings. Proven success developing, managing and implementing media strategies and measuring results across both Digital media and traditional channels

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