Chicken Inn Ltd and Pizza Inn Ltd have asked the court to throw out a trademark infringement case against it by Innscor International Ltd, a rival company from Mauritius, that wants the two fast food startups to stop trading in Rwanda using their current branding.
In opening remarks of the hearing this week, lawyers for the two Rwandan franchises told the commercial court that the claimant lacks the status to seek remedy in Rwandan courts.
“The claimants allege to be a registered company but it did not present to the court its certificate of incorporation, to prove that it has the legal status to sue,” said Emmanuel Ntihemuka one of the defendants’ three lawyers.
However Innscor lawyer exhibited a document said to be his client’s certificate of incorporation in Mauritius and accused his adversaries of a plot to delay the proceedings. The document’s authenticity was questioned by the defendant’s lawyers saying that it ought to have been certified by the representative of Mauritius in Rwanda but court held that it will rule on this objection with the initial case.
Innscor requested the court to order Chicken Inn Ltd and Pizza Inn Ltd to stop using the names alleging that it (Innscor) has rights over them as registered trademarks in several African countries including Rwanda where it claims to have registered the marks in February 2014.
“My client was surprised to see two Rwandan companies using his trademarks and we see this as illegal exploitation of intellectual property,” said Safari Kizito, Innscor’s lawyer.
“These are not the only marks they have copied,” added the lawyer before mentioning two other international marks alleged to have been encroached on but which are not in this case.
According to the lawyer, Innscor has also registered Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn as its trademark in the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (Aripo), an organisation to which Rwanda is a member and through which a single filing can provide protection in several member states.
Innscor has, through its lawyers asked the court to order the defendant to pay Rwf200 million in damages and to be stopped from using all the marks in all its commercial activities.
The defendants denied any encroachment on the trademarks, and said that by the time they started using the names the alleged claimant’s trademarks did not enjoy any protection in Rwanda.
“The two companies we represent here were registered on October 11, 2013 and started trading using the names disputed. In 2014 Innscor came into Rwanda and registered marks that have some elements of our clients’ legal names and tradenames” said Jean Nepomuscene Mugengangabo, an advocate of the defendant.
The lawyer accused Innscor of registering marks already in use in Rwanda and criticised the Registrar General in the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) of failing to abide by provisions of the Intellectual property law that bar RDB from registering a mark that causes confusion in registered trade names.
On the argument that Innscor registered the marks in an international forum that Rwanda recognises, the defendant held that the claimant did not seek protection in Rwanda as provided by Aripo rules.
“In the Aripo registration, the one who wants trademark protection must precisely designate countries in which he wants his marks to be protected, but the claimant designated only Uganda and Namibia while Rwanda is not on this list,” Mr Mugengangabo said.
Lawyers for Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn have asked the court to dismiss the case and award the defendant Rwf200 million in damages for having been unfairly dragged to court.
The lawyers had also asked, in their submissions that Innscor being a foreign company with no property in Rwanda should deposit this amount as security that would satisfy the costs and damages that might arise from the case, but the court did not consider this objection saying it was not raised within the legal timeframe. The court will give the verdict November 4.