MOC, LIPO Entangled in Trademark Fraud

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The issuance of a trademark certificate to H.K. Enterprise, owned by a Lebanese businessman to input Pop Drink on the local market has landed the Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) in trouble with the Commercial Court, at the Temple of Justice.

Both government entities are expected to appear before the court on Thursday, March 24, to provide clarity on the conflicting date appeared on the ten years’ trademark certificate the H.K. Enterprise obtained from LIPO and subsequently submitted to the court.

LIPO is responsible to issue trademarks in the country.

MOCI, the court said, relied on the conflicting certificate and issued an Import Declaration Permit (IDP) that allowed H.K. Enterprise to easily bring the product in the country.

H.K. Enterprise is owned by Housseni Kessel, who is being tried for allegedly using the duplicated trademark certificate to input Pop Drink on the local market.

The trademark in question in 2010 was registered to BAF Trading Corporation, giving it the sole right to import the product on the local market for ten years.

The BAF claimed that without any violation and expiration of the ten years’ right, LIPO in 2014, allegedly issued it to H.K. Enterprise, causing them losses of millions of United States dollars.

The conflicting date was discovered when Kessel took the stand to testify as a defense witness.

During his testimony, he presented the document as one of it documentary evidences to support his registration for the trademark certificate.

The document presented to the court has on it that H.K. Enterprise published their application for the trademark in The News newspaper on January 20, 2014, and according to the trademark certificate it was on the same January 20 the trademark was registered and the certificate was issued by LIPO to the Lebanese company.

It is based on the inconsistencies that the court has summoned the two public institutions.

The Act that established the LIPO provides that publication for trademark registration should be printed in the daily newspaper for two weeks and, if there is an objection, the trademark certificate should not be issued.

But, if nobody objects to it then LIPO can go ahead to issue the trademark to the applicant.

Further in his testimony, Kessel admitted that he did not know that BAF Trading Corporation was the owner of the trademark for Pop Drink and got to know when he was invited by the MOCI based on a complaint from BAF.

In his testimony, he said, he was appointed by Franco in Singapore, the agent of PT Foreser, the factory that produces the Pop Drink, as one of its sub-distributors of the product in Liberia.

Surprisingly, in that appointment letter which was read in court it quoted the Asian Company as warning Kessel that, “the distributor should inform and ensure all of its sub-distributors that they should not register the trademark in Liberia without a written communication from the factory.”

Instead, when he was asked why he registered the trademark ignoring the warning, Kessel said he presented all of the documents regarding the trademark registration and other documents from the supplier and he got ten years’ right.

Another conflicting issue on the application was that it gave H.K. Enterprise one year as sub-distributor of its product, but LIPO gave the company ten years holder of the product.

The case continues.

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