After months of hearing, the government through the Industrial Property Office (IPO) has cancelled and revoked two trademarks issued to a local company, Supplying West Africa Trading (SWAT), one of the leading rice importers in the country.
IPO is a bureau under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MO) that is responsible to issue certificate of trademark to businesses in the country.
A trademark is a recognizable sign, design or expression, which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. The owner of a trademark may pursue legal action against any infringement.
Revoking SWAT’s trademarks, IPO’s Acting Director General, Roberts Y. Mezzeh declared, “Having heard or listened to all the parties, and having also reviewed all of the records presented to us during and after the hearing, and all other records available to us, we have observed irregularities during the filing for registration of the trademarks, Bella Luna and Lady Noore, and others who are now the subjects of this case.”
He further declared, “After observing all of these discrepancies during the registration period (December 10, 2011 to January 22, 2012) without any attempt to make correction until a lawsuit was filed renders the certificates invalid and defective.”
Therefore, Mezzeh added “All the certificates issued to SWAT during the period mentioned above are hereby cancelled or revoked.”
Mezzeh further added, “It is strongly recommended that the two parties, M.K. Dukuly and Son and SWAT pursue the course or path of negotiation so as to peacefully resolve the problem.”
His action followed a complaint by a Lawyer representing M.K. Dukuly and Son to IPO, alleging that SWAT illegally obtained two of its brand names “Bella Luna and Lady Noore,” registered and certificated in February 2014 to import rice into the country.
They further alleged that the Company completely ignored the injunction imposed on it by the Civil Law Court and was selling the product on the market, which they claimed was a violation of the trademark law.
The Court had earlier placed an injunction on the sale of the rice after K. Dukuly and Son filed “Action of Damages for Wrong” lawsuit against SWAT, claiming US$800,000 in specific damages and US$2million n general damages.
However, SWAT, in counter argument, contended that it registered for the trademarks on December 10, 2011 and received certificates from IPO on January 22, 2012, giving it exclusive rights under those names to import any products, including rice into Liberia.
In the complaint, M.K. Dukuly and Son’s lawyer said the certificate submitted by SWAT was defective in that it filed the application on December 30, 2011 and presented a certificate that was issued on December 22, 2011.
This meant that the certificate was issued before filing the application.
Besides, K. Dukuly and Son’s lawyer noted that the publication made on behalf of SWAT regarding Bella Luna’s registration was dated January 3 and January 10, 2012, meaning that the publications were made after the issuance of the certificate to SWAT.
The lawyer also alleged that the IPO issued them carried a certificate of non-discovery for both brands on February 20, 2014, an indication that K. Dukuly & Son was the sole owner of both brands.
According to the lawyer, his client obtained an official filing payment receipt for each of the brands on February 25, 2014.
Before issuing the certificate of trademark registration on February 20, M.K. Dukuly and Son’s lawyer said they made two publications in the local dailies in keeping with the stature.
The first publication, according to him, was on February 26, and the last on March 3, 2014.
After completing all the requirements, the Lawyer said the IPO issued an official certificate of registration for the trademark and the payment was made to the Ministry of Finance, declaring K. Dukuly and Son as the exclusive and sole owner of several brands, including Bella Luna and Lady Noore.