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Appeal Court affirms N10m judgment against Facebook

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Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has dismissed Facebook Incorporated and Facebook Ireland Limited appeal against the judgment of Justice Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court, Lagos, which ordered Facebook to pay N10m to Double Paws Enterprises for interference with its trademark.

The panel, headed by Justice Abdullahi Muhamud Bayero, dismissed the appeal for lack of merit and for being fundamentally flawed.
Double Paws Enterprise had sued the defendants in July 2017 at the Federal High Court in a suit marked: FHC/L/CS/1164/2017, through its counsel, Gideon Okebu, wherein plaintiff prayed for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, its agents, privies, assigns, successors in title and legal representatives from harassing, intimidating or interfering with its right to use the registered trademark; Pawsbook.com & Device.

The plaintiff also sought an order, compelling the defendants to pay the firm the sum of $10m as general damages and another $1m for exemplary damages.

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It prayed the court to determine whether having regard to the unchallenged registration of Pawsbook.com & Device as class 41 trademark under Trademark Act Cap T13 LFN, it possessed the right to use the trademark for business.

Whether the defendants, being international companies and proprietors of a trademark, Facebook, registered under Nigerian laws, under Trademark Act Cap T13 LFN, could seek to render nugatory and abrogate another registered trademark, through self-help and without recourse and in complete disdain for Section 6 and 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 20, 21, 39 and 54 of the Trademark Act, among others.

In their responses, the defendants through their counsel, White & Case, and Jackson Etti & Edu, alleged that the plaintiff’s account was blocked as a result of several contractual breaches, which contravened the Statement of Rights and Responsibility (SRR) the parties entered into at the time of opening the Facebook accounts.

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They also argued that by virtue of a jurisdiction clause in the SRR, which stipulated that the venue of resolving disputes would be the district Court of California, the court had no jurisdiction on the matter and that the trademark certificate given to the defendant was invalid.

Ruling on the case after considering the facts, documents and arguments of both counsel, Justice Faji said the plaintiff’s application had merit and granted the reliefs sought, which included an order of perpetual injunction and N10m as general damages against the defendants.

But dissatisfied with the verdict, the defendants approached the Appeal Court to upturn the ruling. However, a three-man panel, led by Justice Abdullahi Muhamud Bayero, who delivered the lead judgment, upheld the plaintiff/respondent’s submission and dismissed Facebook’s appeal.

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