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Local defence company battles for its name

Thales Advanced Engineering (TAE), a small South African defence systems company, is suing a French defence electronics giant over the rights to use the name "Thales".

Thomson-CSF changed its name worldwide to Thales in May 2001. TAE, which has been in the international defence communications business for 14 years, is seeking millions of euros in damages from the multinational arms company. Two years ago TAE refused an offer from Thales of €100 000 to change its name.

Until a few weeks ago Peter Handley, joint managing director of TAE had hopes that the dispute could be resolved, however Thales has come under investigation for allegedly paying bribes to key officials and politicians and the "straw that broke the camel's back", says Handley, was when it was learned that the Reserve Bank, a client of TAE, was querying internally why it was doing business with such a company.

The confusion of identities prompted a decision by TAE to involve the European Union. A court application in Paris was brought in terms of the French trademark law on the grounds that Thales had been aware of TAE's use and rights coupled to the name. Last week the court battle moved from France to Spain, where the European Trademark Commission is centred.

Thales contends that TAE has not registered the name in Europe and therefore has no rights to it outside South Africa.

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