In the last week, popular skit maker Oga Sabinus filed a N1 Billion lawsuit against Friesland Campina WAMCO Nigeria PLC (makers of Peak Milk) for unauthorised use of his trademark slogan ‘Something Hooge,’ he also filed an N100 million claim against UAC Foods for using a cartooned version of his signature pose in a Gala sausage roll advert.
While it’s unknown if he’ll win the lawsuit, it does teach business owners a crucial lesson about intellectual property and this is the focus of our discussions this week.
Lesson 1- Carefully Select Your Trademark Class.
A trademark might be a sign, logo, term, slogan, or a corporate name that has been registered. It safeguards your reputation and guarantees that others do not. The Nigerian Trademark Registry, which is the Federal agency in charge of trademark registration, categorises trademarks into 45 classes: 34 for products and 11 for services. The Registry uses these classifications, known as classes, to keep track of the tens of thousands of trademarks it registers each year. A trademark applicant who intends to register a mark in more than one class of goods can file a separate application for each classification of the trademark to be registered. This means that in order to increase the scope of a trademark’s protection, it must be registered in multiple trademark classes. If an infringement happens outside of a registered trademark class, the trademark law will not protect it.
In the instant case, Oga Sabinus had filed a trademark for the word “Something Hooge” under Class 36 which covers Insurance; financial services; real estate agency services; building society services; banking; stockbroking; financial services provided via the Internet; issuing of tokens of value in relation to bonus and loyalty schemes; provision of financial information. The implications of this is that the word “Something Hooge” belongs to the Oga Sabinus brand but is protected only within the specified class. Since the class under which it is filed does not cover food manufacturing services then it might be difficult for Sabinus to prove infringement in this case.
Lesson 2- Don’t Put Off Getting a Trademark Until You’re Big.
Many small business owners don’t think about trademark protection until months, if not years, after they’ve been in operation. This strategy has the potential to backfire because someone else could have trademarked your name or logo and there’s no assurance your trademark will be granted for registration. The best business strategy is to think about trademarks from the very beginning—ideally, when you’re choosing your business name and logo and forming your business entity. In some situations, your competitor may decide to trademark your brand in order to force you out of business, so its important to act fast. In the Sabinus Case, it is impressive that he has quickly sought protection got his catchphrase “Something Hooge” and this is the only reason he is able to make a claim against these companies.
Lesson 3- Trademarks Are Important Assets
Trademarks, like real estate, are a property asset that can be bought, sold, licenced (like renting or leasing) or used as a security interest to get a loan to help your business develop. Over time, trademarks can gain in value. Your brand will become more valuable as your company’s reputation grows. Trademarks have worth that extends beyond your primary business. Trademarks can pave the door for cross-industry expansion, such as from personal care to apparel or eyewear. Your trademark can lead to the acquisition of your company by a larger corporation if you want it to. In this particular instance, all Sabinus needs to do is continue to improve the value of his brand by publishing outstanding content and brands will undoubtedly want to capitalise on his brand’s influence. If he does not use trademarks to safeguard that brand, he exposes himself to the risk of these companies using his brand without paying him.
While trademarks protect your ideas against infringement by other businesses, they serve a different legal purpose than other types of intellectual property. The major objective of patents and copyrights is to lay claim to a product; the main purpose of a trademark, on the other hand, is to provide customer protection by removing the possibility of consumers confusing one company or service with another. Basically, it’s the best method to set your company apart from the competition—and if you don’t register a trademark, you risk losing ownership of your own idea, artwork, and all of the creative energy you put into it. It is crucial that you start considering a trademark application from the very inception of your business (as soon as Company registration is being filed) so you can be sure that your brand is protected once you begin commercial activities.
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