Safaricom fights Airtel's aggressive advertising

Kenya's leading telecom company, Safaricom, has obtained temporary orders against its rival's aggressive advertising touching on mobile money transfer.

Safaricom is aggrieved by Airtel's move to display M-Pesa logo on its advertorial to market Airtel Money Service. The operator convinced High Court judge Francis Gikonyo to order Airtel to temporarily stop any advert or print adverts bearing Safaricom's M-Pesa sign until when the case is determined.

"There is a reasonable apprehension that the defendant (Airtel) has already infringed on our trademark and is likely to further infringe on the registered logos," protested Safaricom.

Safaricom takes close to 70 per cent share of mobile money market with over 17 million subscribers and its rival commanding three million subscription, which translates to slightly 15 per cent market share.

"The defendant's action is intended to enable it to ride on the goodwill and extensive market of the plaintiff's M-Pesa mobile transfer services, which has recorded a considerable growth and market command," the court heard.

According to Safaricom litigation officer, Daniel Ndaba, the second market leader had been notified about the adverts, but no action was taken four days after the notification. The legal officer told the court that Airtel wrote back saying that it was not aware of the matter and promised to rectify the situation.

Ndaba told the court that his company had already incurred losses as a result and now wants Airtel to compensate it for breach of its trademark.

"The defendant ought not to be allowed to retain the position of advantage obtained through its 'unlawful act'. The defendant has profited from the infringement of the plaintiff's registered trademark to the detriment of plaintiff. In that case, it is proper that an inquiry as to damages payable to the plaintiff be undertaken or the defendant surrenders profit made to the plaintiff," Ndaba pleaded with the court.

The temporary restraining orders by the judge will be extended until the case is determined.

The two will, however, negotiate about the issue and will come back to court for a mention on July 15. Safaricom's mobile money service earned the company close to Sh30 billion last year. The operator maintained its title as the most profitable company recording Sh31.9 billion profit in 2014-2015 financial year.