SA Breweries (SAB) Miller at war over beer bottle design

KAMPALA – A fight over a shape of a bottle looks the most ridiculous thing to engage in but that’s exactly what Uganda Breweries and Nile Breweries are kicking themselves over.\r\n

Nile is claiming legal rights over the long neck 500 millilitre bottle shape. On the other hand, Luzira-based UBL says the bottle, “cannot be the subject of any exclusive rights” as claimed by Jinja based NBL.

The war between the two beer giants was sparked off last Thursday (November 5), when Nile Breweries, through a newspaper notice, warned beer distributors against vending any beer products in Long Neck 500 millilitre bottles apart from its Nile Special, Club Pilsner and Castle Milk Stout beers.

The complainant, a subsidiary of South African Breweries (SAB) Miller, through a notice issued by Jinja-based law firm Okalanga Law Chamber, further warned that whoever acts contrary to the warning, “shall be doing so contrary to the law and property rights” of Nile Breweries Limited (NBL) and shall be liable to persecution.

NBL says it has legally protected the “uniquely designed” beer bottle by registering it as its trade mark – a label which distinguishes the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings under Trade Marks Act of Uganda.

NBL has also registered the bottle as an industrial design with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) in Zimbabwe. In Uganda, Nile Breweries has protected the contested “Long Neck bottle” as Trade Mark No. 32118, under Class 32 of the Trade Mark Act.

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The contentious bottle. PHOTO BY MARTIN SSEBUYIIRA

Despite the high level protection, UBL, a subsidiary of Kenyan-based East African Breweries Limited (EABL), last month unleashed a similar bottle design which carries President EXTRA Lager.

The new beer brand was unleashed by EABL in honour of President Barack Obama’s accession to the top leadership position in the United States of American.

In a mocking response to Nile Breweries’ notice, Uganda Breweries (UBL) asked the public to ignore the warning and proceed with business as usual.  

“We… invite our esteemed customers and consumers to ignore the contents of the aforesaid public notice and to enjoy our President EXTRA Lager at only Shs1, 300,” said Mr Ivo Buratovich, the company’s managing director in a statement emailed to the Business Power on Thursday.

He added: “We (UBL) deny that the generic Long Neck bottle is distinctive in any regard, and given its “generic” status contend that it cannot be the subject of any exclusive rights as claimed.”
Generic products are those sold without a brand name and usually describe an entire group or class of products, which everyone is entitled to utilise unlike patented ones.

Mr Edwin Busuulwa a lawyer at Buwule and Mayiga Advocates with specialty in Trade Marks, said if a company is proved guilty of violating the property rights of another, it could be asked to pay damages awarded by a court depending on the out come of evidence presented by the aggrieved party’s lawyers.

“The guilty party can also be blocked from selling the product in the market,” he said adding that the damages can take in account business losses incurred by the company, as a result of launch of a similar product.

“It is criminal under the penal code act of Uganda to infringe on someone’s trade mark rights,” he explained in an interview last week.
NBL and UBL’s beer bottle war comes amidst another rife between their parent firms. United Kingdom-based Diageo, the parent firm of EABL/ UBL, and South African Breweries (SAB) Miller, which owns Nile Breweries already have a long standing war over the former’s plans to buy a stake of Serengeti Breweries Limited in Tanzania.

EABL is determined to increase it’s market share in Tanzania where SAB Miller has an upper hand by ending their non-compete agreement -the Brewing and Distribution Agreement with Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL), which was signed in 2002.

The move by EABL to acquire Serengeti and quit the agreement was, however, temporarily suspended in August by a United Kingdom commercial court temporarily until an understanding between Diageo and SAB Miller is concluded court.

The battle for the bee bottle only worsens the relationship between the two global beers giants. – Daily Monitor