The company will pay five percent of this year's annual revenue

Dec 7 , 2019

A dashboard polish importer faced a five percent annual revenue fine for allegedly creating unfair competition by selling a product that is similar to a legally registered brand.

The tribunal of Trade Competition & Consumer Protection Authority (TCCPA) fined Addis Ali Auto Parts Importer for allegedly selling AHUZAZONE dashboard polisher, the brand name of which is too close to a similar product called AutoZone. The latter is manufactured by a Dubai-based company called Saturn Overseas Trading Llc.

The prosecutor of the Authority initiated the case on August 28, 2019, alleging Addis Ali confused consumers by selling a product that has a very similar name to AutoZone. The prosecutors claim that the defendant imports a product with the same colour and size of AutoZone, but with a slight change in its name. The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office had already registered AutoZone.

In his claim, the prosecutor requested that the tribunal order the importer to stop using "a misleading name," AHUZAZONE, and fine the importer 10pc of its annual revenue.

In its defence, which was filed on November 8, 2019, the defendant stated that it initially started importing AutoZone in 2016 before the Intellectual Property Office protected the local product's name. But it did not have knowledge that the Office protected the product on January 13, 2017, according to the company's statement of defence.

The importer also admitted that on February 5, 2017, it confirmed that AutoZone was registered at Intellectual Property Office by another importer.

"Then, the company started to use the first word of the owner's family name and changed the name on the product to AHUZAZONE," reads the statement of defence.

After hearing both sides, on November 13, 2019, the panel of three judges of the tribunal ruled that the importer had committed unfair competition in the market. The judges also fined the importer to pay five percent of its 2019 annual revenue.

The judges also ordered the importer to stop selling the AHUZAZONE brand starting from the day of the ruling. They also ruled the products with AHUZAZONE's trade name must be removed from the market.

A lawyer for Addis Ali Auto Parts Importer says that the company will not appeal, since they accept the ruling of the tribunal.

"But while importing and selling the product, the company didn't have any intention of confusing consumers," Abdulrazaq Reshid, a lawyer for Addis Ali Auto Parts Importer, told Fortune.

Yohannes Woldegabriel, a legal expert specialising in commercial law, also believes the tribunal's ruling is legitimate.

The ruling is a salutary one, according to Yohannes, who says that deceiving the consumer by importing a product in confusion with another product that has protection under the Intellectual Property Office is a criminal violation by itself.

“A deceitful, unfair competition discourages the market competitor’s hard work,” Yohannes said.

He also believes that this kind of issue should be publicised to the consumer as soon as a decision is passed against those who are using deceitful tactics against the trade community.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 07,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1023]

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