Milling firm wins case against Pioneer Foods

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Bloemfontein - A small Free State maize milling company won a case in the Supreme Court of Appeal against food giant Pioneer Foods in a trademark dispute that goes back over a decade.

After Pioneer initially applied for an interdict to stop the Bothaville Milling Company from passing off its Star product on their trademark by using an allegedly similar get-up for their maize meal, both the Bloemfontein High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal found in favour of the Bothaville company and also awarded costs to the respondent.

Mariette du Plessis, a partner with the law firm Adams and Adams, said the dispute centred on the fact that both companies used a star as part of what in legal terminology is known as their products' "get-up".

This includes the name of the product as well as the graphics and colours used on the packaging.

"We were able to show that Bothaville Milling's get-up was sufficiently different to the point where there was no reasonable chance that a consumer could confuse the two products."

In his judgment, Justice MJD Wallis found that Bothaville Milling did not pass-off their "Star" maize meal as the "White Star" brand sold by Pioneer Foods.

Bothaville Milling CEO Arnold Steyn said it was a great victory for his company.

"The judgment shows clearly that big corporates cannot simply walk over the rights of little guys like ourselves and that the rule of law is very much alive and well in South Africa," said Steyn.

The court found that Pioneer Foods had fallen short of proving that there was any confusion in the minds of consumers and that they could clearly differentiate between the two products.

Bothaville Milling has been supplying its "Star" brand of maize meal primarily in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape for more than eleven years and has a loyal consumer base.

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