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Swatch watches are displayed in a shop in Jerusalem in this file photo from Feb. 9, 2010. Swatch Group AG, which reported $1.5-billion in net income last year, says the name of a Tunisian non-governmental organization called I Watch is too similar to iSwatch, a brand it registered in 2007. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS)
Swatch watches are displayed in a shop in Jerusalem in this file photo from Feb. 9, 2010. Swatch Group AG, which reported $1.5-billion in net income last year, says the name of a Tunisian non-governmental organization called I Watch is too similar to iSwatch, a brand it registered in 2007. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS)

Tunisian NGO taken to court over Swiss watchmaker’s trademark claim Add to ...

In a David vs Goliath branding dispute, a fledging anti-corruption organization in Tunisia has been told that the Swiss watchmaker Swatch objects to its name.

Founded in 2011, in the wake of the revolution that toppled president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Tunis-based I Watch has 10 full-time employees.

Swatch Group AG, which reported $1.5-billion in net income last year, says the Tunisian non-governmental organization’s name is too similar to iSwatch, a brand it registered in 2007.

The Tunisian NGO posted on its Facebook account this weekend a lawyer’s letter it received from Swatch.

The letter says the Swiss company has registered a trademark opposition to the NGO’s bid to register its name, alleging that it had violated Swatch’s intellectual property.

“The [iSwatch] brand has been in the Tunisian markets for years and has a great reputation. … They have no rights to have similarity with our products and it is a violation of the law,” the letter says.

The letter sought 100,000 dinars in damages (about $68,000), plus legal costs and 1,000 dinars (about $680) in daily fines should the Tunisian organization fail to heed an eventual court ruling in favour of Swatch.

The letter says the difference between the two names are minute and therefore “the outcome is the same and a proof to the bad intention of the defendant to confuse the public about the brand and what it does and its source.”

I Watch executive director Mouheb Garoui said his group has a March 9 court date, but he declined to comment on the dispute because the matter is now with its legal counsel.

“We’re a non-profit organization,” he said. “We don’t have profits, only projects.”

In an e-mailed statement, Swatch spokesman Bastien Buss confirmed that his company had launched a trademark opposition to I Watch.

The statement said that, for some unexplained reason, the NGO’s registration application in Tunisia was filed under the “watchmaker” category.

“Generally, if someone tries to register a name too close to a brand that we have registered, we have to oppose,” the statement added. “… Out of principles we have to defend our interests anywhere in the world against similar names.”

Swatch has in the past also threatened legal action to prevent Apple Inc. from using the name iWatch for its smartwatch.

The Irish software firm Probendi has also cautioned Apple in the past, because it held the European Union rights to use the name iWatch for computer products.

Mr. Garoui said I Watch is the English translation of his organization’s Arabic name, which was adopted because it reflected its watchdog role.

I Watch is the local partner of Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption NGO.

The Tunisian organization is involved mainly in investigating corruption and retracing stolen public assets.

Mr. Garoui said I Watch’s funding comes from subsidies from three sources: Transparency International, the Danish branch of the NGO ActionAid and the Spanish Ministry of International Development.

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