Mi-Fone Objects to Xiaomi's Use of 'Mi' Brand Name in Africa


In what could lead to a protracted legal tussle, mi-Fone - the mobile devices brand launched in 2008 - has moved to protect its brand from Chinese intruders. mi-Fone, whose regional operations are based in South Africa, has issued Legal letters to China's smartphone giant Xiaomi and its African distributor objecting to the upcoming plans to distribute smartphones across Africa under the 'Mi' brand name.

In a media release sent out today, mi-Fone states that "the objection rests on the basis that the introduction of Xiaomi's 'Mi' products on the continent is an infringement of trademark in a market where mi-Fone has a well-established presence via their 'mi' and 'mi-Fone' trade names."

Alpesh Patel, founder and CEO of Mi-Fone, explains, "It is great that companies want to come into Africa and realise the potential of African smartphone growth, but it is our duty as a relatively small indigenous 100 per cent African owned company to stand up for our rights as the first original registered owners of the 'mi' and 'mi-Fone' names in Africa. I would have hoped that big companies like this would have done their due diligence before announcing their proposed entry into Africa."

mi-Fone's move is in reaction to Xiaomi's recent announcement that it would unveil its new devices in Africa after they were launched in China and India. On September, Xiaomi announced that it would announce the Xiaomi Mi4 and Redmi 2 in Africa later this month.

In order to protect itself against unfair competition, mi-Fone wishes to protect the established 'mi' and mi-Fone" brand names that exists across the African continent. "As the owners of the 'mi' and 'mi-Fone' brand in Africa, we will follow the rule of law and strongly object to any channel in Africa that distributes similar named and related products not endorsed by us as the rightful owners," says Patel.

"Our ultimate concern is with the use of the name 'mi' which immediately creates an association in the minds of consumers," says Patel. "While we welcome free and fair competition within the Mobile Device space in order to empower Africa as a whole, this is an infringement of registered trademarks so it is important we tackle this head-on."

With Africa currently playing host to the fastest growing mobile market in the world, it is evident that the years of investment and innovation instilled by Africans, for Africa, through companies such as mi-Fone have gone a long way towards the empowerment and development of the continent.

mi-Fone was established in 2008 and has been while China's Xiaomi was set up in 2010. Although its yet to get a significant foothold since its launch in 2008, mi-Fone states that its "products and services are now available across more than 15 African markets with their African HQ operating out of Nairobi, Kenya."

"Over the last seven years, mi-Fone has worked hard to nurture relationships with consumers and telco- networks across the continent. Ours is a Peoples Brand," explains Patel in the release.

In 2014 mi-Fone, was awarded the Frost & Sullivan 'Mobile Entrepreneurial Company of the Year' award.

"For me this is more than a business concern, this is a social message calling for all African owned brands to stand up and fight for what they have worked so hard to build. mi-Fone has always been at the forefront of innovation and has been clearly recognised by various industry bodies for all the good work it has done in Africa to help empower our people- we are determined to continue this good work without any outside interference," Patel concludes.

According to IDC, Xiaomi ousted LG to gain a spot in the top five category globally in the second quarter of 2015, with its key to its success being the launch of the Redmi 2A model in China, as well as the continued performance of the Redmi 2 and MI-4 models. IDC notes that "this growth is remarkable considering that it has made its presence felt only in Asia Pacific, and primarily in China" adding that "with Xiaomi's recent entry into Brazil and announcement to launch in Africa in September, its future growth may become dependent on markets outside Asia Pacific." It adds that the expansion and launch of products into these market will prove whether Xiaomi's direct selling strategy can be prove successful in these newer markets.
Source: CIO East Africa 16 September 2015