Safaricom, Airtel fail to reach settlement on advert dispute

Kenya’s two biggest telecommunication firms, Safaricom and Airtel, have failed to broker an out-of-court deal on an advert on mobile money transfers.

The two companies told High Court Judge Francis Gikonyo that weeks of dialogue had not borne any fruit, meaning the case between the two would continue.

Safaricom is aggrieved by Airtel’s move to display the M-Pesa logo on an advert marketing Airtel Money Service. Following a suit filed at the court, Gikonyo ordered Airtel to temporarily stop running any adverts bearing Safaricom’s M-Pesa logo until the case is determined.

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

According to industry statistics, Safaricom holds more than 75 per cent of the mobile money transfer market, with over 17 million subscribers, while Airtel’s share is about 15 per cent, with three million subscribers.

“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 considerable growth and market command,” the court heard.

According to Safaricom’s litigation officer, Daniel Ndaba, Airtel had been notified about the adverts, but no action had been taken four days after the notification.

The legal officer told the court that Airtel wrote back to the telco, saying it was not aware of the matter, but promised to rectify the situation.

Mr Ndaba said his company had already incurred losses as a result of the adverts, and now wants Airtel to compensate it for breach of 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 the 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 added.

Airtel asked for 14 days to file a response to the case.

The judge extended his orders on Airtel’s advert to September 5 when the case will be mentioned.

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