A-Plus Faces Defeat in Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

A-Plus Funeral Management’s legal case against its competitor, A-Class Funeral Services, regarding the use of its registered name, has been dismissed by the High Court. A-Plus claimed that A-Class had infringed on its name, causing confusion among its customers. They sought a permanent injunction to prevent A-Class from trading under a similar name that could potentially mislead customers.

In addition to A-Class, Uganda Registration Services Bureau was also sued by A-Plus for failing to conduct proper due diligence, resulting in the incorporation of a company with a confusing business name. However, Justice Musa Ssekaana, presiding over the case, ruled that the name A-Class did not bear any confusing similarities to A-Plus. He stated, “This court does not believe that the similar phonetic sound is likely to confuse the public in funeral services.”

Justice Ssekaana emphasized that customers in the funeral services industry are generally attentive, discerning, well-informed, observant, and cautious. Such customers are less likely to be confused when it comes to the specifics of a funeral service provider. The judge further noted that apart from the shared first letter “A” and the hyphen, A-Plus and A-Class were not synonymous with each other.

Regarding the use of common trade words in a trader’s name, Justice Ssekaana acknowledged that some degree of confusion is inevitable. The court accepted that even small differences between names are sufficient to avoid confusion. A-Plus had claimed that A-Class had used trade mark initials that were not only similar but also confusing to its clients.

A-Plus argued that it had invested significant effort and resources over 17 years to build its brand and had established goodwill until it discovered another company incorporated under a similar name in September 2020. Acting through Buwule & Mayiga Advocates, A-Plus sought a declaration against Uganda Registration Services Bureau for negligently facilitating the passing off of its name and business to another company. They also requested an order to deregister A-Class or, alternatively, mandate a name change.

However, in his ruling, Justice Ssekaana pointed out that A-Plus had failed to provide evidence to substantiate the alleged confusion. He stated, “In an action for passing off, a distinction should be made between a misrepresentation causing ‘mere confusion’ and a misrepresentation causing ‘deception.’ The former is insufficient to warrant an action for passing off, while the latter is.”

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