The armoured-vehicle industry – supplying people who anticipate being attacked while driving – can be wild, woolly and intensely competitive, but one Canadian manufacturer says a foreign rival has crossed the line.
Inkas Group of Companies, a Toronto firm in the business for 23 years, is battling what it alleges is a copycat of sorts: an armoured-vehicle maker in the Middle East operating under the same name and logo.
It says this doppelganger in the defence and security business, Inkas Vehicles LLC in the United Arab Emirates, is sowing confusion among customers from Ukraine to Nigeria and represents a threat to its reputation.
Inkas is looking to the Canadian government, among others, for help. "We're manufacturers. We're not politicians. We have no idea how to deal with this issue," said Roman Shimonov, vice-president of marketing and business development at Inkas in Toronto.
Over the decades, as the international market for fortified vehicles grows in response to emerging terror and geopolitical threats, Canada has become a launching pad for a slew of manufacturers catering to celebrities, diplomats, executives and police forces, including Streit, Terradyne, Inkas, International Armored Group and Cambli Group. Products include up-armoured luxury cars and SUVs, banking trucks and paramilitary vehicles. This group does not include the more heavily protected combat vehicles produced by General Dynamics in London, Ont., for military use.
Toronto-based Inkas has a sufficiently good reputation that when Major-General David Fraser, a veteran Canadian commander in the Afghanistan war, retired, he joined Inkas as chief operating officer. It has about 350 employees and its armoured vehicle line generates about 50 per cent of the company's revenue.
Customers dictate what level of ballistic steel cladding and bullet-resistant glass is used. Mr. Shimonov said the most popular, called B-6, offers protection from "AK-47s and two grenades."
Among Inkas's claims to fame is a July 23, 2014, attack in which the man who is today the President of Nigeria was ambushed by a suicide bomber while in a sports utility vehicle that had been armoured by the Canadian company. Muhammadu Buhari emerged unwounded that day.
Inkas, founded by a former Russian police officer who defected to Canada in 1990, has a distinctive name derived from a Russian word for transporting cash. And it brands itself with a distinctive logo: a gryphon, within a shield, holding a sword upright. Inkas has trademarked its brand in Canada and the United States.
However, this trademark matters little in the UAE, a prime location for selling into Africa, the Mideast and even Asia, and armoured-car maker Ulugbekhon Maksumov insists that he is fully within his rights to use the same name and gryphon logo.
There's a messy backstory to this dispute, which stems from a joint venture effort gone wrong in 2014 – and Inkas in Canada and its allegedly infringing rival in the UAE disagree on what happened.
Mr. Maksumov, a Uzbekistani national, is one of tens of thousands of Russian-speakers in the Emirates, which attract huge numbers of tourists from Russia and former Soviet satellite states each year. He says that back when the Canadian and UAE entities were still co-operating, "it was mutually agreed that we could use both [the name and logo] indefinitely."
He holds a trademark for his business in the UAE.
The Canadian Inkas has launched legal action in the Emirates, filing a complaint with the local police in the hope that it leads to an investigation by the UAE attorney's office.
Then there's the matter of an 8,330-kilogram, fully armoured, paramilitary vehicle claimed by Inkas in Canada.
Mr. Shimonov alleges that UAE Inkas is obliged to return this light-armoured patrol vehicle that the Canadian government gave permission to be temporarily exported to the Emirates for an exhibition several years ago.
He said it is due back in Canada by spring of 2017 and the Toronto company will run afoul of export control rules if it is not returned – or if Inkas cannot convince Ottawa that it is the victim of theft.
So far, Inkas in Canada says, it has not received much help from the federal government, with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service telling the company that it cannot intervene in disputes between two companies.
Mr. Maksumov, chief executive officer of the UAE-based Inkas, is adamant that the vehicle was bought and paid for, and he produced an invoice to back up his account. Inkas in Canada disputes the authenticity of the invoice and said that, under the terms of the temporary export of the paramilitary vehicle, it was released from Canada only for an exhibition and not for sale.
The United Arab Emirates embassy in Canada did not respond to requests for comment.
The Canada-UAE Inkas conflict is a cautionary tale about how Canadian entrepreneurs must ensure that their trademarks and intellectual property are sufficiently protected before entering into foreign joint ventures.
It is similar to the troubles that luxury brands encounter in foreign markets where copyright protection is hard to establish The Canadian side alleges that Inkas in the UAE has reverse-engineered the vehicle it sent to Dubai in 2013 and used the technology and design to make its own vehicles.
Mr. Maksumov wholly rejects this. "This statement is 100 per cent false. All designs of all vehicles manufactured by my company are created in-house by either our design team and/or our R&D team and there are no duplications from any other manufacturer."
He also dismisses concerns that two companies with the same name and logo in the same business might confuse customers. "People are aware of the differences between vehicles made in each country," he said.
A Canadian government spokeswoman says it is looking into the dispute. "This matter was recently brought to the attention of Global Affairs Canada, and we are currently examining it, including being in touch directly with the company," Rachna Mishra said in an e-mail.
None of the allegation made by Toronto-based Inkas Group have been proved in a court of law.