Actress and businesswoman Connie Ferguson’s beauty products empire has come under threat after one of her competitors took her to court over allegations that she stole the trademarks of international brand Nivea.
Nivea owners Beiersdorf AG are suing Ferguson’s company Koni Multinational Brands for “passing off” some of its products as if they were Nivea’s and want a court order to clear retail shops of all Connie men’s products.
According to court papers filed by Beiersdorf’s lawyers Adams & Adams at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in December, Ferguson and her business associates at Koni have been riding on the back of Nivea’s success and reputation to sell their Connie beauty and body care products.
Beiersdorf says in the court papers that it is the market leader in South Africa and have made a turnover of more than R8.7-billion since 2012, R258-million of which was exclusively from the sale of its shower gels.
At the centre of the row was the use of blue containers, silver and yellow fonts, logos as well as get-ups.
In its application, Beiersdorf filed for an interdict “to restrain the respondent from passing-off its Connie Body Care Men Active Shower Gel as being that, or as being associated with that, of the applicant, by making use of a get-up in respect of the infringing shower gel which is likely to cause confusion or deception in the market as to the source of its goods or as to its connection or relationship with the applicant”.
Ferguson and her business partner Groovin Nchabeleng in their answering affidavit this week accused the giant German multinational company of bullying.
“The respondent is bringing healthy competition to the men’s shower gel market, and the applicant, being an international company, is trying to bully and intimidate the respondent by bringing this baseless application,” they said in their court documents.
In its application, Beiersdorf tried to convince the court that it had been in the business longer than Koni, which was established in 2012.
“The applicant has used its blue and white get-up continuously since 1925 and continues to use it to this day, including in South Africa.
“Printouts of pictures of the Nivea packaging (tin) for the years 1935, 1949, 1959, 1970 and 2007, showing the applicant’s extensive and long-standing use of the distinctive blue and white get-up, are annexed.
“In 2008 the applicant re-launched its Nivea Men range by, inter alia, applying a new get-up to its Nivea Men packaging, the applicant added the colour silver to its distinctive blue and white get-up.
“The applicant is, in fact, aware of actual confusion in the trade,” it said.
In its response, Koni dismissed the claim that there was confusion in the trade and said Beiersdorf was picking on them as other brands like Clere, Vaseline and Protex were also using similar packaging and colours.
“The applicant cannot claim monopoly over the blue, white and silver colours,” said Koni in its documents.
Ferguson was not available for comment.