Feb 22 , 2020

Mullege Plc and Muleg Oil have been fighting over their trade names.

The Federal Supreme Court remanded the trade name battle between a leading coffee exporter and an oil importer to the Ministry of Trade & Industry for an administrative verdict.

Mullege Plc, the leading coffee exporter, has been in a court battle with Muleg Oil Importer for the past two years over their trade names, which are pronounced almost the same way. The Federal High Court ruled both can use their name, which led the case to reach the Supreme Court.

The appellate court, which presided over the case for almost a year, sent the case back to the Ministry, reversing the High Court's ruling.

The case began when Mullege appealed to the Ministry, alleging that Muleg Oil Importer had altered its trade name to be similar to Mullege. After reviewing the claim, the Ministry gave an administrative decision in revoking the name of Muleg Oil Importer on March 23, 2018.

The Ministry reasoned that Mullege had established and registered its trade name before the importer in 2003.

In response, Muleg, the six-year-old oil importer, took the case to Federal High Court on March 30, 2018, requesting a reversal of the ruling. On its claim, the oil importer stated that the two companies are different business entities, and the Ministry provided them with a license after checking that their trade name did not overlap.

In its defence, Mullege claimed that since it obtained the license as a general importer, it might also involve itself in the oil-importing business. Mullege's lawyer also argued that the names of the two companies are identical in the Amharic language, sharing the same three letters and sound.

The Ministry, which was a co-defendant, stated that Mullege Plc could engage in the petroleum import business and requested that the Court reject the appeal of the oil importer.

After reviewing the case, the High Court reversed the ruling of the Ministry on April 14, 2019, ordering that both companies could keep their trade names.

Though their name seems identical, Muleg has registered its trade name as a petroleum and related products importer. In contrast, Mullege registered its trade name as a general importer and exporter company, reads the High Court's ruling.

Opposing the lower court's ruling, Mullege Plc and the Ministry took the case to the Supreme Court by appealing that the lower court had made an error of law in passing the verdict. The duo requested that the Supreme Court reverse the ruling of the High Court, stating that it gave the judgement without considering whether the names of the two companies sounded the same.

The appeal also reads that Mullege Plc has presented documentary evidence to the High Court showing that the two companies engage in similar businesses; however, the Court passed its ruling without looking into them.

After examining the case, the Supreme Court - presided over by justices Reta Tolossa, Endashaw Adane and Abeba Embibel - passed the ruling on January 30, 2020, remanding the case back to the Trade Ministry, reversing the decision given by the High Court.

The Supreme Court ordered that the Ministry make its decision based on whether the two companies are engaged in the same business or not.

“We agree with the decision of the Supreme Court," said Tsedale Mekuria, lawyer of Mullege Plc. “But, rather than referring the case back to the Ministry,  the [C]ourt can sustain the Ministry's decision since it already passed a ruling on the case two years back.”

Elsa Seyoum, the legal representative of the Ministry, and managers of Muleg declined to comment on the issue.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 22,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1034]

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