By Emumena Michael,
Zeb Ejiro, a movie producer and agent of Zeb Ejiro Production Limited has defeated Anne Chioma Njemanze at the Trademarks Tribunal over a raging ownership battle of a movie title, “Domitilla”.
Njemanze through her lawyers led by Bartholomew Aguegbodo had filed a suit with no FHC/L/CS/2305/22 at a Federal High Court in Lagos, accusing Zeb Ejiro, Filmone Entertainment and Trybe Media of infringing in the exclusive right of her trademark, “Domitilla & Device”, which she registered on 16th September, 2020 and demanded N50 million from the defendants for loss occasioned by the infringement and another N5 million for cost of litigations.
Investigation by The Trumpet newspaper reveals that the trouble began after Zeb Ejiro began auditioning of actors and actresses for another movie in the Domitilla series titled ‘Domitilla: The Reboot’ in June 2020. Ejiro had also contacted Anne Njemanze sometimes in 2020 and 2021 to play a non-leading role in the new movie, ‘Domitilla: The Reboot’, that was recently premiere in Netflix and Cinemas.
Njemanze had initially demanded N17 million for the role she was offered. However, Zeb Ejiro offered to pay N5 million only. So, they were unable to reach an agreement and a compromise. Ejiro had to proceed with the production of “Domitilla: The Reboot” with other actors and actresses.
Unknowingly to the movie producer, Njemanze had approached the Trademarks Registry in Abuja to register “Domitilla & Device” in class 41 in September 2020. Thereafter, Njemanze demanded Ejiro to pay her N37 million before he can be granted the right to use “Domitilla” as a title in the new edition of the movie series.
The refusal of Ejiro to part with N37 million after her trademark registration instigated the current legal battle of the ownership of the mark, Domitilla and Intellectual Property right infringement, where Anne Njemanze acting as the plaintiff in the case with suit no FHC/L/CS/2305/22 is demanding N50 million as compensation for loss occasioned by the infringement of her supposed trademark, “Domitilla & Device”.
Following her suit, Ejiro who in his statement of defense filed by his lawyers led by Rockson Igelige accused Njemanze of engaging in a gold-digging exercise, said the Plaintiff has no right over “Domitilla” having been contracted by Zeb Ejiro Production Limited in 1996 and 1999 as a lead character in a movie titled “Domitilla 1” and “Domitilla 2” respectively.
Ejiro, therefore, is filing a counter claim of N500 million against Njemanze for breach of confidence and unlawful conduct in suit no FHC/L/CS/541/2023. He also approached the Trademarks Registry at Abuja, filing a petition to challenge the registration of “Domitilla & Device” as trademark by Anne Chioma Njemanze in Trademark Application F/TWO/2020/976.
The petition was to determine whether Njemanze is the ‘True Proprietor’ of the trademark, “Domitilla” in Nigeria and is entitled to Registration under the Trademarks Act and prevent the Petitioner from using same.
In his ruling on Thursday 4th May, 2023, at the Trademarks Tribunal sitting at the Trademarks Registry in Abuja which was witnessed by our correspondent, the Chief Registrar, Shafiu Adamu Yauri, said Anne Njemanze was unable to produce any evidence or document to shows that she is the rightful owner of “Domitilla” unlike the petitioner, Ejiro, who has proven his ownership beyond reasonable doubt.
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The Chief Registrar also noted that Njemanze acted in bad faith having failed to prove her ownership except by presenting documents issued her by the Registry and merely stating that since her participation in Domitilla 1 & 2, she is being known & addressed as “Domitilla”.
Yauri therefore, cancelled the registration of Domitilla as a trademark by Anne Njemanze and withdrew all documents issued to her in that regards, saying they were issued in error.
“The Tribunal exhaustively studied all the Exhibits attached by the Petitioner and also looked at the totality of the defence put up by the Respondent/Applicant. It is clear from the evidence attached by the Petitioner, most especially the Exhibits that there was a relationship between the Petitioner and Respondent/Applicant.
“There is no evidence before this tribunal to establish true ownership or proprietorship of the mark DOMITILLA by the Respondent to satisfy the requirement of Section 18 of the Trademarks Act. There is nothing in their response to show that they are the actual Proprietors of the mark. This clearly suggests that the Respondent’s application to register the trademark DOMITILLA was made in bad faith.
“The Respondent knew about the existence of the mark and have transacted business with the proprietors regarding the mark in question over a period of time. So, the Respondent conduct cannot be anything but dishonest and I so hold.
“The Tribunal agreed with the submission of the Petitioner that the Applicant/Respondent was not the proprietor of the trademark Domitilla but rather copy the name from the Petitioner and filed for registration of same, which the Registrar of Trademarks inadvertently accepted the application in error.
“The Tribunal hereby cancelled the acceptance letter and any other documents issued to the Applicant/Respondent in respect of DOMITILLA trademark application as prayed by the Petitioner,” the ruling read in part.