Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kopitiam wars in Indonesia - another battlefront

Image result for lau's kopitiam In a continuation of the longstanding Indonesian KOPITIAM wars, (background here) a new case between Phiko Leo Putra operator of Lau's Kopitiam cafe and Abdul Alex Soelystio has been decided in the Supreme Court. Abdul has secured dozens of trademark registrations in many classes for KOPITIAM which is a Chinese translation of coffee shop, previously a generic term across South East Asia including Indonesia.

Hundreds, if not thousands of KOPITIAM cafes exist however. Abdul has been winning cases and is taking enforcement action against the many users of KOPITIAM throughout Indonesia.  In another case, he forced the cancellation of Paiman Halim's KOPITIAM trade mark registration in class 43.

In the current case, Phiko had applied for LAU'S KOPITIAM in Class 43 for cafes and restaurants in September 2013. Phiko claimed that Abdul's registration for KOPITIAM should be cancelled because it is in the public domain. Phiko argued KOPITIAM is a combination of two descriptive words, KOPI ('Coffee' in Indonesian language) and TIAM ('Shop' in Chinese Hokkien dialect). He argued it is widely used for coffee shops especially by the Chinese immigrant community.

The Defendant Abdul claimed that the LAU'S KOPITIAM application is similar to his KOPITIAM trade mark registration. He requested the court to order the Plaintiff to stop his business and pay damage for Abdul's losses.

The Panel of Judges at the Jakarta Commercial Court rejected the Plaintiff's lawsuit. However they also decided that Lau's Kopitiam mark has significant differences to the Defendant's KOPITIAM mark so was not similar.

On appeal in the Supreme Court, the Judges overruled parts of the Commercial Court decision. They confirmed the two marks were in fact similar and that there was infringement and Phiko had to cease use of his Lau's Kopitiam trademark.

The decision is probably right in respect of the similarity. But it does not address the descriptive generic issue, which is also ongoing in another case brought by the Kopitiam Owners  Association. Meanwhile Abdul keeps asserting and winning cases, in his attempt to monopolize an entire industry.

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