The United Kingdom and Kenya - The Kikoy Controversy

Having been a Kenya advocate since 1969 and worn the kikoi long before that, I rejoice at the failure of The Kikoy Company UK Limited to register ‘KIKOI’ in the United Kingdom for goods in Class 25.[1] According to my 1939-edition dictionary, ‘kikoi’ means ‘a white loincloth with coloured border in cotton or silk’. Since then, white has ceased to be an essential colour and there are many patterns; the cloth rectangle has been tailored for many uses, and the garments have become known as kikoi far beyond East Africa. They are traded to tourists and in the international market-place, by the applicant and others. Is it not axiomatic that the word is incapable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods from those of others?

The application was deemed abandoned when the applicant failed to respond to a notice of opposition filed by Traidcraft Exchange, represented pro bono by the law firm Watson Burton. I am interested to note from their website[2] that the opposition may have been based on the ground that registration "would have been disastrous for the thousands of small businesses which depend on trade with the UK in this traditional cloth", rather than the argument that the word is generic. Client confidentiality prevents Watson Burton from commenting. I have been referred by one kind colleague to item 27.5 of the IPO manual and would be grateful for further enlightenment from UK sources, particularly regarding the language aspect.As to Kenya there were reports in sundry media

[3] that the Kenya Industrial Property Institute was prepared to grant trade mark protection to the word kikoi. However, correspondence with Professor James Otieno-Odek, Director General of KIPI and with the Chief Trade Marks Examiner Mr. Sylvance Sange reassures me that the word is recognised to be unregistrable as a trade mark and that lack of novelty rules out patent protection. In fact the authorities, approaching the controversy from an opposite direction, regard the name as being "protected", not as a monopoly but against monopolisation, by those provisions of the two Acts. These issues are the subject of discussion in international circles.

[1] Trade Mark Application No. 2431257

[2] http://www.watsonburton.com/news

[3] e.g http://allafricaallafrica.com/stories/printable/20080421197;

Date published: 2008/05/20
Author: Mac Spence

Tags: united kingdom kenya kikoy controversy