Trademark, Trade Name and Firm/Company Name in Ethiopia
Under the Ethiopian legal system, trademarks are regulated by the Trademark Registration and Protection Proclamation No.501/2006 (the Proclamation) and the Trademark Registration and Protection Council of Ministers Regulation No. 273/2012 (the Regulation). The Proclamation defines a trademark as “any visible sign capable of distinguishing goods or services of one person from those of other persons and it includes words, designs, letters, numerals, colors or the shape of goods or their packaging or the combinations thereof. ” (Article 2 (16)) The Regulation provides that the use of trademarks means attaching a trademark to goods or packaging or labeling of goods; displaying the trademark closely associated with the goods; placing the trademark in advertising or promotional material in relation to goods or services; or in any other way establishing a relationship between the trademark and the goods or the services (Article 2 (6)).
Trademarks are registered in Ethiopia by filing an application for registration with the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO). Following this, the application will undergo formality and substantive examinations. If the application is accepted, a notice inviting possible opposition to the registration of the mark will then be published in a gazette having nationwide circulation. If no opposition is lodged, EIPO will register the mark and issue a certificate of registration in favor of the registrant. Once registered, trademarks have to be renewed every seven years.
Trade names are regulated under the Commercial Code of Ethiopia and the Commercial Registration and Business Licensing Proclamation No. 686/2010 (the Registration Proclamation). The Commercial Code defines a trade name as “the name under which a person operates a business and which clearly designates its business.” (Article 135 of the Commercial Code cum Article 2 (9) the Registration Proclamation)
Under Ethiopian law, any person desiring to engage in a commercial activity shall register its trade name at the place where it is registering in the commercial register. Before the registration of a trade name in the commercial register and in the trade name register, it shall be verified that the trade name has not been registered already. In order to verify this, there is a legal requirement to cause the publication in a newspaper which has a nationwide distribution, at the expense of the applicant, of a notice indicating the subsequent registration of the trade name. Where no objection is lodged against the registration of the trade name within 15 days following publication of the trade name in a newspaper, the registering office will issue a trade name registration certificate to the applicant upon the applicant’s payment of the necessary fee. The registration of a trade name shall be a prima facie evidence of entitlement to and validity of the same trade name.
Company/firm names are regulated by the Ethiopian Commercial Code of 1960 (The Code) . There is no express definition given as to what constitutes a company/firm name. However, a firm name or company name is impliedly provided for under Articles 135 (2), 207 (3), 280 (3), 305, 514, etc. of the Code. The Code’s rules on share companies provide that company name shall be as “agreed but shall not offend public policy or the rights of third parties and shall include the words ‘Share Company’” (Article 305). Similarly, the rules of the Commercial Code on private limited companies provide that a private limited company may have a firm-name which may indicate the nature of its business and the firm-name shall be followed by the words “Private Limited Company” (Article 514).
Firm/company name is used to identify and distinguish business organizations from each other for the purpose of allocating rights and duties attributable to them. It is possible to apply to the registering office to reserve a given firm/company name. In order to do this, the applicant must submit three alternative names to the registering office. After conducting a name search, if one of the names fulfils the requirements under Ethiopian commercial law and is available for use, the registering office will reserve/register the name. Once reserved, a company name can only be valid for a period of six months. This means that an entity under formation must be incorporated under the company/firm name within six months from the date the name was reserved/registered. Before signing memorandum and articles of association, founders or members of a business organization shall first reserve/register a firm/company name because the company name has to feature in these documents.
Individual traders and business organizations (including foreign investors) must have a firm name or company name registered with the concerned government organ before commencing business in Ethiopia. Regarding the institutional frameworks, it is the EIPO that has a mandate to register trademarks whereas the Ministry of Trade, Ethiopian Investment Commission and regional trade bureaus are empowered to register and administer trade names and company names in Ethiopia.
In conclusion, it is possible to have trade name which is the same as or different from trademark and/or company name and vice versa. However, a business organization can have only one company/firm name and more than one trademarks and trade name.