Iraq prime minister orders crackdown on trademark violations

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BAGHDAD Iraq’s prime Minister has ordered a crackdown against local businesses that operate under the names international brands without legal permission, his office announced Wednesday.

The move by the premier, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, comes after The Associated Press reported last week that Iraq has become a major center 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, the Iraqi capital. Starbucks filed a lawsuit to stop the trademark violation. However, the case was halted by the owner who allegedly threatened lawyers.

Amin Khsusi, the owner and operator of the fake branches, admitted to the AP that he had operated the stores without a Starbucks license, but denied making threats. He claimed that he tried to get a license legally first, but was turned down.

The statement from 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. When Yahia Rasool (a spokesperson for al-Sudani) was asked if the government had ordered the closing of the “Starbucks” branches, he declined to answer other than the statement issued by his agency.

At one of the unlicensed “Starbucks” branches located in Baghdad the logo-emblazoned signs had been removed by Wednesday. The main entrance was closed with a roll-down metal covering. The shop continued to operate inside, selling Starbucks-brand coffee in paper cups, though another door was not closed.

Makhsusi said that while the stores had taken down the logos and signs for “Starbucks”, they were still selling Starbucks coffee and cups. He added that they had to “get rid .”

The chain will change its name to be able legally operate. However, the problem of counterfeiting and piracy is not limited to coffee.

The broadcaster beIN sent cease-and-desist notices to Earthlink, the largest internet service provider in Iraq, alleging that its free streaming service is almost entirely made of pirated content.

At least two U.S. pharmaceutical firms have complained to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that their trademark was being used by Iraqi companies to sell life-saving medication.

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Associated Press reporters Ahmed Sami Fattah and Ali Abdul-Hassan in Baghdad contributed reporting.

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