Mr. Boubacar S. Blade, the prosecution’s first witness in the ongoing trademark certificate case, last week accused both the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and the Liberia Industrial Property Office (LIPO) of duplicating the document to allow H.K. Enterprise to import and distribute Pop Drink in the country.
H.K Enterprise is owned by a Lebanese businessman identified as Houssani Kessel.
The certificate was issued to BAF Trading Corporation in 2009 by LIPO and the ministry allegedly authorizing BAF as the only company to import and sell the product in Liberia, according to Blade, who is the Import Manager of BAF.
In his testimony at the Commercial Court, Blade further pointed out that the registration of trademark was very important because it provides protection to the holder of said document by securing the exclusive right to use it, or to charge a fee if another person was interested in importing the same product, but said that it did not happen.
Instead, explained Blade, H.K. Enterprise used the duplicated certificate, which he alleged the MOC and LIPO awarded to his company on what he described as a “fast-track basis,” to import and distribute Pop Drink.
According to him, in January 2014, LIPO’s acting managing director, Robert Mezzeh and the ministry took less than 7 days to approve H.K. Enterprise’s use of the document, which he claimed violated Article 40 ( 2), (VI) and (VII) of the Industrial Property Act of 2003.
He did not explain what that article says.
But he told the court that when BAF management observed that H.K. Enterprise had imported Pop Drink into the country, they immediately wrote a complaint to Mr. Meezeh, explaining about H.K. Enterprise’s violation of their trademark.
“Unfortunately,” said Mr. Blade, “we tried every avenue to contact Mr. Meezeh on the issue but they did not materialize.”
Based on that, he said they wrote similar complaints to Mr. Steve Marvee, assistant minister of Commerce and Trade at the MOC.
“When we met with Marvee at his office, he told us that he was not in the position to speak on the issue because he had a planned trip outside of the country,” the prosecutor witness quoted Minister Marvee as saying.
According to him, after they failed to meet with Marvee and Meezeh, it was then that they decided to get in contact with a man named Daina Saykay, who he said initially assisted them in obtaining the trademark from LIPO.
“It was Saykay who made it possible for us to meet with Meezeh,” Blade added.
Blade alleged that it was during the meeting they had with Meezeh in the presence of Saykay that he, Meezeh, admitted issuing the same certificate to H.K. Enterprise to import Pop Drink into Liberia.
“After that he told us that we and Houssani Kessel, the Lebanese businessman, should use the same certificate to import and distribute the product in the market,” Blade told the court, adding, “He did not give us any reason why both businesses should use the same certificate. That is a complete violation of Chapter five (5) Article 44 (2) and 49 (1) of the Industrial Property Act,” Blade said in his testimony.
He said they, however, rejected Meezeh’s suggestion.
Later, their lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, on April 17, 2014, wrote MOC Minister Axel Addy and the minster afforded them the opportunity to meet with him.
During the meeting, which all of the parties including LIPO, MOC and BAF attended, Minister Addy instructed Meezeh to collect all of documents and have them submitted to him.
Minister Addy, he alleged, placed a ban on the importation and distribution of the Pop Drink in the country, pending the outcome of the investigation.
After Minister Addy lifted the ban due to his findings, and authorized BAF to resume the importation and distribution of the Pop Drink, the Minister, according to Blade, warned H.K. Enterprise not to import the product into the country.
“Based on Mr. Addy’s decision we wrote the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and the MOC informing them that we had started importing the product back on the market,” he explained.
Shockingly, Blade claimed, Minister Marvee of the MOC and the LIPO manager, without regard to the lifting of the ban and Mr. Addy’s directive, in March 2015, wrote H.K. Enterprise to continue with its importation of Pop Drink.
“It is for this infringement, we have come to this court to award us damages to the tone of over one million United States dollars against the MOC, LIPO and H.K. Enterprise,” Blade plead when he ended his testimony