A presiding judge at the Federal High Court has brought a two-year court battle to an end waged between Samrawit Fikru and Habtamu Tadesse, the heads of two leading taxi-hailing companies.

In a landmark case, Judge Tadesse Atnafu ruled last week in favour of Habtamu's ZayRide, that the company's registered trademark does not infringe on that of Samrawit's Ride. The verdict says the two trademarks do not resemble or are perceived as confusing to users.

The litigation over the trademark suit began when Hybrid Designs Plc, the parent company of Ride, took the case to the Federal High Court in January 2020. It claimed compensation for alleged losses caused by the unauthorised use of the company's trademark by ZayTech IT Solutions Plc, which operates ZayRide. Samrawit's legal team petitioned the court that the services the defendant offers under the ZayRide brand infringe on Ride's trademark and result in "unfair competition."

Ride's legal representative, Ali Mohammed, claimed the defendant had "unlawfully" registered a similar trade name and reaped the benefits, collecting revenues amounting to 19.4 million Br. The plaintiff also claimed to have spent nearly 16 million Br on advertising Ride's trademark beginning in 2015. Ali petitioned the Court for a ruling that could stop the defendant from using, selling, or advertising its services under the ZayRide trade name.

Elias Fikru, a lawyer representing ZayTech, argued before judges that the trademark was registered for the app developed by Hybrid Technology and not for the taxi-hailing business. He claimed apparent differences between the trademarks used by the companies and no confusion could have been created among customers. The design, colour and soundtrack of ZayRide’s trademark are not similar to that of Ride’s, argued the defendant.

Both parties appealed to judges invoking a law legislated in 2006 governing the registration and protection of trademarks. The owner of a trademark is entitled to preclude others from any use of a trademark or signs resembling in such a way as to likely mislead the public for goods or services, says the law.

Ride began operations in March 2017 with a capital of 40,000 Br, a pioneer in the e-taxi business with over 16,000 vehicles enlisted with it. The defendant, Habtamu, broke the ice for app-based taxi-hailing firms in Ethiopia when he established ZayRide a year earlier. ZayRide launched a platform allowing travellers to book a cab online using a mobile application instead of text messages or phone calls.

ZayRide has since grown to work with over 10,000 drivers.

“Business has been slow due to the company’s account frozen by court injection,” Habtamu told Fortune. “We're planning to expand our business into five towns.”

The number of digital taxi-hailing platforms has nearly doubled to 40 over the past two years. Three companies, including Kenya-based Little Cab and Sunshine Investment Group's SunPick, have joined the fray in the last few months. Feres, an e-taxi company, has emerged as an industry leader since its incorporation in February 2020. Its loyalty reward programmes have garnered a strong user base in its two years of operation.

Other taxi-hailing companies include Ze-Lucy Meter Taxi, Seregela, Taxiye, Addis Meter, Pick Pick, Hello and Hatch Taxis.

The management of Hybrid Technology did not respond to queries from Fortune despite repeated attempts.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 11,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1154]

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