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Firms battle in court over M-Kopa brand

By Kamau Muthoni | January 12th 2016

A legal battle over who owns M-kopa brand is brewing between a private firm and Kenya’s leading telecommunication company, Safaricom, and its partners in the solar energy provision deal.

Mkopa Investments, established by one Patrick Kamau claims in its court papers that M-Kopa solar idea initiated by an Englishman Nick Hughes and his Canadian co-founder Jesse Moore in partnership with Safaricom was infringing upon its name, which was copyrighted in 1997.

“Since the registration of the name Mkopa investments, I have engaged in several profitable business ventures and undertakings under the name. The name M-kopa Solar is similar to Mkopa, which is the name I had registered as a business name,” Kamau claimed in his affidavit filed on his behalf by lawyers from Kimandu and Ndegwa company advocates.

Safaricom on the other hand claims ownership of the copyright, arguing that the concept was hatched between it and M-Kopa Kenya in 2011 and has been generating more than Sh314 million in revenue. M-kopa is a concept of selling solar systems with embedded sim cards which allow Safaricom’s registered M-Pesa subscribers to purchase solar.

“The concept was originated by the first defendant (Safaricom) in collaboration with the second defendant (M-kopa Kenya) and is run by the first and second defendant as a partnership, pursuant to a collaboration agreement dated November 11, 2011,” Safaricom’s legal officer Mark Lavi responded.

Mr Kamau wants the court to stop the firms from using the name and at the same time compensate him for the time the name has been in use. “The defendants continual infringement of the name Mkopa and their blatant disregard of the plaintiff’s right to the exclusive use of the same is causing untold suffering, losses and damages to the plaintiff,” the court papers filed by Kamau’s lawyer also read.

But M-Kopa Kenya’s legal officer is of the contrary argument stating that the idea to provide solar to poor households is not related to the name in dispute. Pauline Gathungu in her reply said that the name was hatched after considering that the consumers would be paying their bills through mobile platform ran by Safaricom.

“Considering the fact that the payments of the solar units would be through mobile money, the idea of including the letter M to the word kopa was conceived,” she said, adding that M-kopa was incorporated in Delaware and later came to the country.

“I am aware from my legal training that a claim cannot be founded on the infringement of unregistered trademark unless the action is one founded on passing off. In this case the applicant is not the registered proprietor of the trademark and cannot claim exclusive rights to use the same name in the same way the second respondent can,” the argued.

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