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BusinessSoap trademark dispute pits competitors

Soap trademark dispute pits competitors

Leading soap producer Ethio-Asian Industries Plc., a subsidiary of East African Holding S.C., presented its defense in court on Thursday after it was accused of trademark infringement and resulting business damages to another local company—Al-Han Detergent Plc.

Ethio-Asian, according to a suit brought by the Consumer Protection and Trade Practices Authority, was accused of appropriating the name Sora, a soap brand that has been on the market since January 2015, and to which Al-Han Detergent Plc. has an exclusive right.

Al-Han obtained the license in2013 from the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office. The company has since been using the brand name for its soap that comes in different measures.

Established six years ago, Al-Han produces different types of liquid soap and detergents. It has a production facility in Mekanissa, a neighborhood in the western part of Addis Ababa.

Al-Han is majority-owned by a local investor, Habib Debella.

“Because of Ethio-Asian’s actions, we have lost our market share,” reads a statement from Al-Han. “This act has created unfair trade competition,” the statement further notes.

Ethio-Asian has been using a similar trademark as well as industrial design to that of Al-Han.

It was said that Ethio has been producing the same soap product since 2015 even though Al-Han is also producing a similar product, according to the case processor.

In its defense, Ethio’s lawyer argued that it had ceased the production of the soap product in 2012.

“We began to produce Sora soap before we got the trademark from the intellectual property office,” said the lawyer.

After we learned from the office that the trademark was given to Al-Han, we have stopped production, he told the tribunal.

Furthermore, Ethio has asserted that the case processor of the authority has failed to produce evidence that shows the damage that has been claimed. It argued further that the fact that Ethio has produced Sora does not necessarily indicate the existence of an unfair trade practice.

Not only that, the lawyer of the defendant argued that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear the case.

Ethio, through its lawyer, also demand that the tribunal suspend the case because the cause of the action for period of limitation has lapsed.

The case processor, in turn, told the tribunal that the issue is not related to contract so it should not be dismissed because of period of limitation.

Ethio-Asian was originally established as African Soap and Detergent Factory Plc. in 1994. Later, the company underwent restructuring, and was co-owned by Bezuayehu Tadelle and an Indian businessman, B.S. Shetty.

In addition to soap and detergents, it produces edible oil following its acquisition of Hamaressa Edible Oil Enterprise in 2014 for 50.5 million birr.

After hearing from both sides, the tribunal adjourned the case until Monday, September 18, 2017 for detailed oral litigation between the two parties.

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