The Coca-Cola Company Limited and Harris International, makers of Riham Cola after several negotiations through an arbiter in the Commercial Court have decided to settle the dispute. In a settlement signed on 5th November 2013, both companies decided not to pursue the case any further.
A Deed of Settlement of A Dispute partly reads, “The parties hereto have held negotiations and have amicably agreed to have the dispute the subject of the suit settled.” It however further adds, “…that the terms of settlement are confidential.” As part of the settlement, both companies also agreed to bear their own legal costs.
This case was born out of a suit in which the Coca-Cola Company sued Harris International over one of their products, Riham-Cola in May 2013. In submissions made to court, MMAKS Advocates, the Coca-Cola Company counsel had requested the court to place a “permanent injunction restraining” Harris International for infringing on their trademark based on “distinctive features” that appear on Coca-Cola bottle. Riham Cola, a new soft drink - made in Uganda - , in the market then was said to be branded in colours and packaging similar to that of Coca-Cola.
“In fact the advertisement and promotion of its products, the defendant has been and is also deliberately attempting to cause confusion and pass of its products off as those of the plaintiff,” reads a summary of the case filed against Harris International. There was use of strong words and phrases like “blatant and deliberate imitation” in the submission by the Coca-Cola lawyers, acts which they say amounted to “unlawful conduct.”
In their defense, done by Rezida Nangwala & Co. Advocates, Harris International disputed all allegations, in some incidences accusing The Coca-Cola Company for acting in bad faith when they filed the suit. Almost three months into production, the Riham Cola label colour was adjusted, albeit slightly, to avoid appearing to be similar to that of Coca-Cola.
“..the defendant changed the colour of the label on the 500ml bottle; a process abused by the plaintiff who, in the midst of discussions filed a suit that is overtaken by events, a suit based on a none extant trade mark,” reads the summary of the Harris International defense. Furthermore, Harris International also noted that it had carried out market surveys, of which results pointed to “no likely confusion between Riham Cola and Coca-Cola.”
These events led the commercial court to recommend mediation for the case on 13th May 2013, and on 30th October 2013, the parties are said to have reached an agreement on that day. Considering the confidential nature of the case, no further details were provided on the case, explaining why company officials remain tight-lipped on the matter. Had the mediation talks failed, the case would have gone for a hearing but the both companies avoided that. Now the battle front goes back to the market.