Mi against Mi: A look at the brief Xiaomi vs Mi-Fone situation

by | Jun 22, 2016

“No winners when it’s me against me, one of us just ain’t gonna survive

My heart been broke for a while, your’s been the one keepin’ me alive”

– Lupe Fiasco ‘Beautiful Lasers (2 ways)’

If you’ve ever read any article or book written by Ben Horowitz, then you will understand why I included that quote from Lupe Fiasco’s song. But if you haven’t, you should look for one. (Maybe check out his blog when you’re done reading this).

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A few months ago, I got to review (what, at the time, was Xiaomi’s newest flagship phone) the Mi 4. It turned out to be everything Xiaomi made it out to be. For a phone of its retail price (₦56,000 at the time), it was packing. It came with impressive specs: 3GB RAM, 8MP front-facing camera, 13MP rear-facing camera, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, and a solid uni-body build. The only problems I had with the phone were the battery life and the non-expandable 16GB storage space. Every other thing was awesome to me. Some months later, I heard some bad news.

In March 2016, I read that Xiaomi got hit with a court injunction by the Federal High Court in Lagos. They were to stop selling all ‘Mi’ branded devices in Nigeria because of a trademark clash with Mi-Fone’s ‘Mi’ brand. Mi-Fone is an African mobile device brand that has been in operation since 2008. Mi-Fone already registered the ‘Mi’ brand name as a trademark in Africa.

When the court ordered the injunction, Mi-Fone founder, Alpesh Patel made these comments:

“We are an African brand and believe it is our duty to small business in Africa to stand up for our rights against the giants of this industry, no matter how daunting the process. If Xiaomi had done proper due diligence on Africa they would have noted that the ‘Mi’ brand already exists and belongs to Mi-Fone.

We are not averse to competition, however, the use of the same brand name, which was introduced to the African market eight years ago, places our business at risk. We simply cannot afford to create confusion within the consumer mindset by having two mi branded and yet separate mobile device offerings.”

All that might sound good to some ears: an African brand standing up against a foreign one. But when I learned that the injunction was temporary, I was happy and confused. Happy because I could now wait for the next Xiaomi flagship phone to come to Nigeria. Confused because I don’t understand the purpose of the injunction. If it was going to be temporary, why was it made in the first place? And why did the Mi-Fone founder make those comments? Did he think the injunction was permanent? What’s more, the injunction only lasted a month, so what was the point?

Anyways, Xiaomi has been cleared to start selling their Mi phones again in Nigeria. However, there are some things I learned from this brief episode of a trademark kerfuffle. One is, do proper research before entering a new market; avoid trademark disputes. Another lesson is, you can’t foresee some things and so you’re just going to have to deal with them as they come. I don’t think Xiaomi expected to hit that snag in Nigeria, but they did; it’s part of doing business globally.

I expected that Xiaomi would have taken off in Nigeria by now, but it hasn’t. Maybe the injunction slowed them down, or perhaps they don’t think Nigeria is a good market for them right now.

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