Rwanda’s Akabanga Chilli Oil Madrid Registration learns from the Missteps of Sriracha

On 15 September 2015 Rwandese company Enterprise Rwanda filed an application for the registration of its trade mark for popular Rwandan chilli oil "Akabanga", in 15 countries through the international trade mark application "Madrid" system.

Akabanga is made from 80% pili pili (chilli) extract and 20% vegetable oil. The oil is sold in small bottles, similar to that of eye drops, reflecting its potency. With Chilli experts stating that the heat level measures just under 100,000 Scovial units, a few drops is all that is needed to get the requisite chilli kick.

The buzz developing around Akabanga follows in the footsteps of Vietnamese “Sriracha” chilli sauce, now a household name in many countries across the globe.

Sitting at the helm of the Sriracha empire is David Tran freely admits that he never applied for a trade mark for the famous "Sriracha" sauce and has no regrets.

The lack of trademark protection over the word mark Sriracha means that Tran has lost out on various commercial opportunities to licence his IP as noted in an article in the LA times,

“...the biggest names in the food business industry such as Heinz, Frito- Lay, Subway and Jack in the box” have created their own Sriracha sauce capitalising on the popularity of the sauce without having to pay for a licence.

“ chains, candy and snack manufacturers” whose products are advertised as including Sriracha are not buying any of the original Sriracha sauce or paying royalties for use of the name.

What is worse is that there are several applications at the US Patent and Trademark Office for the word mark Sriracha and none have been granted as the USPTO now considers the word generic.

Where Sina Gerad of Enterprise Rwanda got it right, is in taking note of the international buzz around the product and with the help of the Rwandan Development Board applied for registration of his mark in 15 countries namely China, Germany, Egypt, Spain, France, UK, Ghana, India, Italy, Japan Kenya, Sudan, Turkey, USA and Zambia.

What Gerad has realised, is that it is much simpler with today’s technology to duplicate a popular product. And, that in order to get ahead of the pack, he will need to secure the branding of his product against others that may come along and offer a similar chilli oil.​​

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Presently the Madrid application for Akabanga is in class 29 (Nice Classification) which deals with mainly foodstuffs of animal origin as well as vegetables and other horticultural comestible products which are prepared for consumption or conservation.

With the current support Akabanga has from the Rwanda Development Board, it would not be surprising to see an application for the registration of a geographical indicator for the chilli oil in the near future.

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