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Domitilla: Settle out of court – Registry tells Ejiro

THE Federal Trademark Registry has directed ace filmmaker, Zeb Ejiro, and Nollywood actress, Anne Njemanze, to settle out of court their issue around the movie, Domitilla.

The Registry gave the directive on Thursday, April 27, and adjourned till May 4, for them to return with a report on the settlement.

    Njemanze had sued Ejiro and two others before the Registry for infringing on her copyright. She approached the Registry to challenge the purported registration of the brand name ‘Domitilla and Device’ by Njemanze.

    The respected movie producer through his lawyer, Rockson Igelige, told the Registry that the trademark in question had long been in use since 1996 by Ejiro, in connection with films and matters which fell under class 41 of the Register of Trademarks in Nigeria.

    In the suit marked: FHC/L/CS/2305/2022, filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos, Ann also demanded the sum of N5 million for the cost of litigation and lawyers fees incurred, while a sum of N50 million is what she is demanding from Ejiro for the registered trademark infringement.

    Joined in the suit against Ejiro are Filmone Entertainment and Film Trybe Media. Njemanze accused Ejiro and the other defendants of infringing on the exclusive right of her trademark, ‘Domitilla & Device,’ which she registered on September 16, 2020, and as a result, she is seeking an order of injunction, restraining the defendants or any other person from using her trademark (Domitila), or any other mark that is deceptively similar to the registered trademark.

   Ejiro and the other defendants in their statement of defence denied the allegations against them, saying, “The 1st Defendant’s principal (Zeb Ejiro Productions Limited) has been using the word continuously since 1996 in marketing the films, before the date of the Plaintiff’s alleged application for registration and or purported registration of ‘Domitilla & Device’ as a trade mark.”

   Igelige told the Registry that in 1996 and 1999, his client employed and paid Njemanze to act in his films ‘Domitilla’ and ‘Domitilla 2,’ adding that she knew of his prior and continuous use of the name since 1996.

  He said, “The Petitioner owns the statutorily protected copyright of the film scripts of ‘Domitilla’ and ‘Domitilla 2’ which were handed to the applicant in the course of her engagement as an actress in 1996 and 1999 respectively.

    “Since the respective release of the films in 1996 and 1999, the films have continuously been in the market, first in video Cassettes; later in Compact Discs and now majorly as internet downloads all under the proprietary name of the Petitioner.”

    “The applicant has no goodwill and reputation in the word, Domitilla, separate from her role in the films ‘Domitilla’ and ‘Domitilla 2,’ which are intellectual properties of the Petitioner.

    “The Petitioner has continuously used ‘Domitilla’ as a created film character and as the title of his films, ‘Domitilla’and ‘Domitilla 2’ since 1996 till date, thereby building strong goodwill and widespread reputation in the world,” Igelige added. 

   He stated that in respect of the class of goods and services, the applicant claimed to have applied for registration and or purport to have registered ‘Domitilla & Device’ as a trade mark.

    “The applicant’s alleged application for registration and or the purported registration of ‘Domitilla & Device’ offends section 11 of the Trade Marks Act.”

    He further told the Registry the use of the trademark by Njemanze was likely to deceive or cause confusion, as he once more prayed the Registry to cancel, revoke and expunge the purported registration of ‘Domitilla and Device’ from the Register of Trademarks.

    In response, Njemanze’s lawyer, Marvin Ibem, told the Registry that his client had filed a 98-paragraph reply against the petition to justify the registration. He noted that the petition lacked merit and urged the Registry to throw it out in its entirety.

    “I adopt our responses to the petition dated April 20, we urge the Registry to dismiss the petition, as the trademark has no jurisdiction to cancel the registration. The applicant has satisfied all requirements of the law to acquire the trademark,” he said. 

    In his ruling, the Registrar, Shefiu Adamu, asked both parties to settle out of court and return to the Registry with terms of settlement.

   He adjourned till May 4 for ruling, if the parties in the dispute failed to reach an agreement of settlement.

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