28 December 2022

Iraqi firms violating international trademarks face crackdown

28 December 2022

Iraq’s prime minister has ordered a crackdown on local businesses operating under the names of international brands without legal permission.

The move by Mohammed Shia al-Sudani comes after the Associated Press reported last week that Iraq has become a major centre of trademark violations and piracy.

In one prominent example, a chain of fake Starbucks has been operating under the international coffee company’s logo in Baghdad.

Starbucks filed a lawsuit in an attempt to shut down the trademark violation but the case was halted after the owner allegedly threatened lawyers hired by the coffee company.

Amin Makhsusi, the owner of the fake branches, admitted to the AP that he operated the stores without a licence from Starbucks but denied making threats. He said he had first tried to obtain a licence legally, but after being turned down, decided to open the store anyway.

A statement from Mr al-Sudani’s office said that trademark infringements are “a violation of the law, and a crime that harms the business environment and foreign investments” as well as harming “Iraq’s reputation and its ability to attract major companies and institutions with internationally registered brands and trademarks”.

It said that Iraqi authorities had taken “legal measures” against a number of businesses found to be operating under fake trademarks, but did not specify which ones.

Asked whether the government had ordered the “Starbucks” stores to be shut down, Yahia Rasool, a spokesperson for Mr al-Sudani, declined to comment beyond the statement issued by his office.

At one of the unauthorised “Starbucks” branches in Baghdad, the signs bearing the logo had been removed from the storefront by Wednesday and the main entrance was shut by a roll-down metal cover.

However, another door remained open and the shop was still doing business inside, serving coffee in Starbucks-brand paper cups.

Mr Makhsusi told AP that the stores had taken down the “Starbucks” signs and logos under orders from security officials but that they were still selling the stock of Starbucks coffee and cups, bought retail, which they had to “get rid of”.

The chain will change its name, he said, to be able to operate legally.

However, the issue of counterfeiting and piracy in Iraq goes beyond coffee.

The broadcaster beIN has sent cease-and-desist letters to Earthlink, Iraq’s largest internet service provider, alleging that a free streaming service offered to its subscribers is composed almost entirely of pirated content.

And at least two US pharmaceutical companies have approached the US Chamber of Commerce with complaints that their trademark was being used to sell counterfeit life-saving medication by Iraqi companies.

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