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12 February 2019
In its recent decision in Kataeb Political Party v The Modern Media Company, the Beirut Supreme Court confirmed that the ownership of a trademark or trade name is acquired through use and not through registration with the relevant authorities.
In 1958 the Kataeb Political Party (KPP) launched the radio station Voix Du Liban – VDL, which the Ministry of Telecommunications licensed in 1976.
In 1994 the law regulating the broadcasting of radio stations and TV channels was promulgated. Among other things, the law stipulates that only joint stock companies can obtain a radio or TV broadcasting licence.
In 1996 The Modern Media Company (MMC) was incorporated on the KPP's initiative. The MMC subsequently obtained a licence to operate a radio station under the name Voix Du Liban – VDL and rented premises and related equipment, as well as the station's archive, from the KPP in order to run and operate the station. The MMC was supervised by the KPP to which it provided regular reports. The MMC proceeded, with the KPP's knowledge, to register Voix Du Liban - VDL as a trademark.
Several months prior to the rental agreement's expiry, the KPP sent a notification to the MMC requesting, among other things, that it:
The MMC failed to comply with the notification. As such, the KPP filed suit against the MMC, reiterating its claims. However, the MMC claimed ownership of the trade name Voix Du Liban - VDL based on the fact that:
On 25 September 2013 the first-instance court (ruling on commercial matters) held that it was obvious that the trademark belonged to the KPP, which had granted the MMC implicit authority to use it. The court based its conclusion on the following facts:
Appeal court decision
On 2 February 2016 the appeal court confirmed that:
Further, the appeal court confirmed that, despite the fact that the legislation concerning associations (and political parties) prohibits such entities from undertaking any commercial activity with the aim of benefiting its members, such prohibition does not cover situations in which an association may generate revenue from commercial activities, provided that such revenue will be dedicated exclusively to fulfilling the entity's main activity. A typical example of such a situation is the revenue that an association generates from licensing a trademark.
Beirut Supreme Court decision
On 4 May 2017 the Beirut Supreme Court confirmed the appeal court's conclusions, stating that Lebanese legislation protects the initial use of a trademark and clearly states as follows:
the created trade name or trade mark or service name is by itself a legitimate object (Res Nullius) and is considered to have its own existence and it can be owned as long as it doesn't have a previous owner, and such ownership is established pursuant to its use and not its registration, whereas the registration's role is restricted to publicize such right and not to create it.
The Beirut Supreme Court has once again confirmed the model adopted by Lebanese law with respect to trademark registration – namely, that the purpose of such registration is to proclaim the right to use a trademark and not to create such a right.
The MMC believes that the Beirut Supreme Court made a serious error in confirming that the KPP had granted the MMC implicit authority to use the trademark, but denying that the transfer of a trademark is not in itself a commercial activity which can, by law, be proved by all means and not merely a written instrument. As such, the MMC filed an appeal before the highest court (which comprises the presidents of all cassation court sections) on this ground, among others. The highest court's verdict has yet to be issued.
For further information on this topic please contact Tarek Farran at Farran Law Firm by telephone (+961 1 426 174) or email (email@example.com). The Farran Law Firm website can be accessed at www.farranlaw.com.
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