Safaricom is in court after being sued over ‘Okoa Stima’ Trademark IT firm, Colour Planet, claims trademark ownership

An information technology (IT) solutions firm, Colour Planet last year  sued Safaricom over the name of a soft-loan facility for electricity consumers, known as Okoa Stima.

Colour Planet claims it registered the “Okoa Stima” trademark name with the Kenya Industrial Properties Institute in May, and that the mobile communications company has violated its ownership rights by using a similar name.

The firm claimed it came up with Okoa Stima as the name of an electricity purchase software it had developed and even introduced it to Kenya Power.

Colour Planet’s Anthony Chege Wanaruah claimed he is the proprietor of the trademark.

He says the firm had worked on its software since 2012, and that Safaricom’s alleged infringement has watered down the quality of its Okoa Stima trademark.

Mr Wanaruah also claimed that it was resolved in a November 2013 meeting with Kenya Power Managing Director Ben Chumo that the two firms would partner only if Colour Planet got financial backing from a bank.

He claimed Kenya Commercial Bank had agreed to implement the concept.

However, Safaricom proceeded to use that name knowing that it was an already registered trademark, he said.

The IT firm wants the company barred from using the name until the case is heard and determined.

“It came as a surprise to us when an employee of Safaricom claimed ownership of the concept of Okoa Stima and the company has subsequently infringed on our trademark through repeated advertising. It is in the interest of justice that Safaricom (hold) its hands pending the unravelling of the truth behind the trademark,” the IT firm said.

Safaricom then entered into correspondence with Color Planet in June informing the IT company of its intent to contend the trademark application. A court in Nairobi has now  stopped Color Planet from using the name until arguments by both parties involved in the suit are brought to the judge according to Business Daily.  Safaricom claims it opposed the registration of the trademark but its claims were thrown out on a technicality.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed by bitcoin payments startup BitPesa in the Kenyan High Court. The startup says Safaricom “intimidated” its gateway partner, Lipisha, forcing it to suspend its services without prior notice, according to Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation. The stoppage came into effect on 12th November.

As a result, BitPesa and Lipisha are facing significant challenges to maintaining their business. A lawyer for the two firms told the Daily Nation that BitPesa is “at risk of collapse” because it’s now unable to conduct its business.

The two firms sued Safaricom for infringing on their rights to acquire and own property, fair administration and economic interests.

BitPesa uses Lipisha as a payment gateway to enable transfers and conversions of bitcoin into other currencies, including Kenyan shillings on Safaricom’s mobile money platform M-Pesa.

Safaricom argument at hearing

During the hearing on Tuesday, Safaricom argued that the suspension of service to Lipisha was justified because of anti-money laundering rules.

The mobile money operator claimed that Bitpesa had failed to obtain authorisation for bitcoin transfers from Kenya’s central bank. As a result, Bitpesa’s transactions through Lipisha and its account at Safaricom contravened AML rules.