The Football World Cup: An IP Spectacle

A four-year spectacle, i.e., the FIFA World Cup 2022, which captures the imagination of almost 5 billion people worldwide, kicked off on November 20, 2022. No sport is more globally recognised and played than football, or soccer, as it is known in some parts of the world. Their grandest stage captures the imagination of many a country, with matches being watched with loyal fervour and new demi gods arising out of the tournament whose signing fees for their respective clubs could bankroll a country. But this is the FIFA World Cup at its best.

The tournament does bring about numerous challenges, and one such challenge is the protection of Intellectual Property rights. The tournament has close to 5 billion eyeballs on it; therefore, every brand looks to have a presence due to the tremendous commercial value it provides. FIFA has official partners for broadcasting, hospitality, ticketing, etc., who are recognised as official FIFA rights holders. These right holders make substantial financial investments, and such investments will only be forthcoming if FIFA provides them with the exclusive use of their brands during the tournament.

To ensure the education and protection of intellectual property rights, FIFA has an entire section on its website dedicated to brand protection: https://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/commercial/fifa-marketing/brand-protection. FIFA includes several terms and conditions as well as guidelines to protect the investment and exclusive rights granted to their partners and other licensees of the tournament, which include (among others) monitoring and action plans on counterfeit merchandise, ambush marketing campaigns, and social media activity. The rights are actively enforced to prevent misuse and to protect the prestige and value of such a partnership.

 

The Intellectual Property Guidelines provided by FIFA is an extensive document dealing with numerous aspects of protection. It states that only the official FIFA rights holders can use the official intellectual property rights for commercial purposes. Some of the notable official intellectual property items include the following:

With everyone wanting to celebrate the tournament, there is always a risk of unwanted association with the official intellectual property that may occur. However, the FIFA guidelines show that businesses and the public can use generic football or country-related images and terminology that do not include the official FIFA intellectual property.

 

Additionally, there is also the added problem of ambush marketing. It is a prohibited marketing activity undertaken by brands to unscrupulously take advantage of the event without the authorisation of FIFA. Ambush marketing previously raised its head during the World Cup in Russia. FIFA has sought to prevent such ambush marketing to ensure that the official sponsors are given as much protection as possible.

 

FIFA must be lauded for its efforts to create and enforce intellectual property for a sporting spectacle such as the World Cup, and other sporting event organisers must emulate the measures taken by FIFA to ensure the valuable rights of the sponsors are protected.

 

 

 

FIFA includes several terms and conditions as well as guidelines to protect the investment and exclusive rights granted to their partners and other licensees of the tournament, which include (among others) monitoring and action plans on counterfeit merchandise, ambush marketing campaigns, and social media activity. The rights are actively enforced to prevent misuse and to protect the prestige and value of such a partnership.

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A Perceptive Study of Indian Jurisprudence on the Religious Susceptibility Clause of Trademarks Law

Religion, since time immemorial, has influenced Indian law and society on a political, cultural, and economic level. The country’s rich religious and cultural history has, over the years, been both revered and celebrated around the world.

Our architecture, holy books, epics, symbols, and homonyms all reflect the country’s diverse and rich heritage that encompasses religion. The Indian Constitution further complements this heritage by vesting its citizens with the right to freely profess, practise, and propagate their religion under Articles 25-28,[1] subject to reasonable restrictions.

It is safe to say that religion is deeply intrinsic to Indian society, and inevitably, it has seeped through every facet of the Indian lifestyle, including trade and commerce. Religion, in India, is a sensitive subject, and the use of names of Gods and Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is subject to certain reasonable restrictions under the Indian Constitution as well as other domestic laws, including the trademark law.

Hence, while not entirely forbidden, the proliferation of hypersensitivity with respect to religion and religious scriptures and symbols dictates the jurisprudence around the usage of such marks under the Indian trademark law.

Trademark Law and the Bar of Religion

The use of religious symbols and figurines in commerce and business to draw clients has, over the year, proven to be an effective strategy to encourage growth, considering individuals place a high value on religious symbols and have a solid emotional and spiritual tie to items affiliated with their faith. Such usage, however, is also characterised by the nature of goods and services and the morality or immorality tag duly attached to said goods and services in contemporary society.

Section 9 of the Trademarks Act, 1999 stipulates Absolute Grounds for Refusal of Registration of a trademark.[2] Consequently, Section 9(2)(b)[3] specifically places certain restrictions on the registration of marks that are likely to hurt or insult the religious sensibilities of any class or section of society.

Additionally, the Manual of Trade Marks, Practice and Procedure by the Central Government,[4] in consonance with the provision as has been prescribed under Section 23(1) of the Trademarks Act, 1999,[5] further enumerates a list of notified prohibited trademarks which includes, interalia:

  • Words “Lord Buddha”, “Shree Sai Baba”, “Sri Ramkrishna”, “Swami Vivekananda”, “the Holy Mother alias Sri Sarada Devi”, “Balaji” or their devices and the Emblems of the Ramkrishna Math and Mission or colourable imitation thereof; or
  • Names and pictures of Sikh Gurus, viz. Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Raj, Guru Harkrishnan, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh;
  • Name and picture of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj;
  • Name and/or picture of the deity of Lord Venkateswara and/or Balaji.

Indian Jurisprudence and the Contours of Religious Susceptibility

The use of names of Gods or Goddesses, religious symbols or figurines per se is not prohibited under the provisions of the Trademarks Act, 1999.[6] In Vishnu Cement v. B.S. Cement Private Ltd.,[7] for instance, the word “VISHNU” was granted registration in the absence of any device of Lord Vishnu, associated with the word mark, by associating the word mark with a personal name, and not a religious sentiment. Again, in Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works v. District Judge,[8] a relatively liberal approach was taken by the Allahabad High Court in allowing the proprietor to use the trademark ‘GANESHA’ on beedi packets.

However, such usage in relation to certain goods or services may offend the religious sentiments of certain sections of society. In these situations, such marks would fall within the ambit of marks not eligible for registration. For instance, a trademark carrying the name and image of Goddess Meenakshi regarding fertilisers and manure was revoked under the erstwhile 1958 Act.[9] Similarly, in Amritpal Singh v. Lal Babu Priyadarshi[10] the mark RAMAYANA was found incapable of registration. The case acted as the first instance of a blanket restriction being imposed on the registration of the name of a religious book by interpreting the provisions under Section 9(2)(b) of the Trademarks Act, 1999, stricto sensu.

Interestingly, in all these cases, the courts have cited the need to prevent the monopolisation of names of gods and religious symbols and figurines, adding that these words lack enough distinctiveness and merely qualify as common words, which should not be allowed for registration. The Bombay High Court recently refused registration to the word “LAXMI,” citing the aforementioned, on the grounds that it was a common name and thus lacked any distinctiveness to merit registration.[11]   

It is pertinent to note from the aforesaid that the courts have refrained from defining strictly measurable thresholds when it comes to dealing with marks that might have a religious connotation, which is fair and understandable to an extent, considering the sensitive nature of such cases. However, the lack of consistency in the reasoning cited behind these decisions has raised some eyebrows, and the conflicting decisions have left much to be desired.

More recently, the Kerela High Court granted the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust the registration of the “picture of Attukal Deity” and the title “Sabarimala of Women” under Class 42 – a residuary clause (for temple services, social services, welfare services, and cultural activities), citing the need to “prevent unauthorised use of the deity’s picture and title.”[12] The case stands as one of a kind, where a temple trust has been granted registration for carrying out services corresponding to the temple and in the name of a particular religion and goddess, thereby risking the exclusion of an entire sect of devotees from using the picture and title of their beloved deity.

While the grant of such a registration might be in contravention of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, the decision also sets out a dangerous precedent, risking the monopolisation and commercialisation of services and other activities carried out in the name of faith, which is in stark contrast to the general position portrayed under the Trademarks Act, 1999, and the spirit of secularism as a whole.

 

Conclusion

While the intention behind the courts not defining a straight-jacket formula while dealing with marks that might have a religious connotation is laudable, considering the sensitive nature of such cases, the inconsistency behind the reasoning cited in some of these cases leaves a lot to be desired.

The use of names of Gods, Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is generally publici juris,[13] and registration of the aforesaid should be allowed only in exceptional cases where the prima facie evidence in favour of the usage by the proprietor is so strong in the public mind that the mark could be deemed to have garnered secondary distinctiveness, to the exclusion of all other parties, bar the proprietor.

No doubt, commercial interest forms the cornerstone of business in the contemporary world, but it’s important to remember that religion and business often don’t go hand in hand, and such commercial interest shouldn’t come at the cost of compromising the religious sentiments of the masses.

References:

[1] India Const. Arts. 25-28.

[2] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 9.

[3] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 9(2)(b).

[4] Manual of Trade Marks, Practice and Procedure by the Central Government, accessible at:  https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOGuidelinesManuals/1_32_1_tmr-draft-manual.pdf.

[5] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 23(1).

[6] S.P. Chengalvaraya Naidu v. Jagannath, (1994) 1 SCC 1 (India). See also, Registrar of Trade Marks v. Ashok Chandra Rakhit Ltd., AIR 1955 SC 555 (India).

[7] Vishnu Cement v. B.S. Cement Private Ltd., 1998 (18) PTC 130 (India).

[8] Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works v. Union of India, (1974) 4 SCC 43 (India).

[9] Sri Meenakshi Tamil Nadu Appl. 1976 IPLR 144 (India).

[10] Amritpal Singh v. Lal Babu Priyadarshi, (2015) 16 SCC 795 (India).

[11] Freudenberg Gala Household Product Pvt. Ltd. v. GEBI Products, MANU/MH/1859/2017 (India). See also, OM Logistics Ltd. v. Mahendra Pandey, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 757 (India) [Registration for the term ‘OM’, was refused] & Shree Ganesh Besan Mills v. Ganesh Grains Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Cal 3068 (India) [Registration for the term ‘GANESH’, was refused].

[12] Suo motu Proceedings v. Controller General of Patents, Design and Trademarks, 2013 SCC OnLine Ker 24367 (India).

[13] Bhole Baba Milk Food Industries Ltd. v. Parul Food Specialities Pvt. Ltd., CS (OS) No. 107/2010 (India). 

It is safe to say that religion is deeply intrinsic to Indian society, and inevitably, it has seeped through every facet of the Indian lifestyle, including trade and commerce. Religion, in India, is a sensitive subject, and the use of names of Gods and Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is subject to certain reasonable restrictions under the Indian Constitution as well as other domestic laws, including the trademark law.

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Art Meets Law: The Uneasy Tussle of Street Art and Intellectual Property Law

Art-making in public spaces is a 2000-year-old tradition in India. The oldest evidence of painting in communal places can be traced to the Buddhist cave paintings in Ajanta, Maharashtra. The mode of expression and manifestation of these art forms has been unique. For example, folk art on the exterior walls of homes, hand-painted Bollywood posters on walls, truck art, slogans, and many more. Street art is a combination of all of these. Street art is a broad term that encompasses spray painting graffiti, political graffiti murals, (un)sanctioned wall art, and other art forms. Despite concurrent pronouncements on the legal status of graffiti and other art forms, several concerns have arisen about their commercial use and protection under Intellectual Property law.

The medium of expression for a street artist is more often someone else’s property without the permission or knowledge of the owner. In its most unadulterated form, street art opposes authority and the law. On either private or public property, it is usually art made without permission and in violation of the law. Street art embraces metropolitan walls and streets, gifting the public with innovative visual imagery that becomes a part of the city as much as the wall it rests on. Perhaps one of the most rapidly expanding artistic movements is graffiti. Though India has not been much into this, the new era is for something different.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of street artists in India, namely, Yantra and Leena Kejriwal, and internationally there is Banksy and Manu Invisible. Graffiti art has evolved over the past several years from being disregarded as a nuisance and equated with vandalism. Even after the many surrounding conjectures, it has been gauged to be a legitimate form of art and a sought-after commodity among art collectors and enthusiasts. Since graffiti is on the verge of becoming the next big art market, it is grappling with questions of intellectual property protection on creation, unauthorised copying, and destruction.

 

Copyright in Street Art

 

In all its forms, street art has recently gained enormous popularity and is typically not seen as a nuisance to the property. It has instead developed into a highly marketable commodity throughout the world. To clarify a few supplementary terms, “street art” is an umbrella term for artwork produced in a public area.[1] On the other hand, graffiti describes the application of spray paint to surfaces to produce images or different designs. Despite being used in many commercial endeavours, such as fashion brands and advertising campaigns, the law has not recognised it as art. So, the question remains whether it may be extended to copyright protection.

For a work to be qualified for copyright protection, it must be original, reduced to material form, and showcase creativity. Graffiti meets these criteria since it is artistic and fixed in a physical medium of expression. Technically, copyright exists as soon as it is created, so there shouldn’t be any formal requirement for the aforementioned conditions to be met. Other exclusive rights are solely available to the author of the work. For instance, they can publish or authorise the publication of their work, reproduce or authorise the replication of their work, and include or authorise the inclusion of their work in a cinematographic film or T.V. broadcast.

In the Indian scenario, any street art will fall under section 2(y) of the Copyright Act, 1957 (“Act”). Furthermore, as per section 2(c) of the Act, these street arts will also fall under the purview of artistic work. As stated above, copyright protection to subsist in work primarily needs to be original. There is no definition of “original” in the Act, but in the trade, it is assumed that an idea cannot be copyrighted until it has been expressed and is unique in its truest sense. The courts have tried to ascertain originality through various judgements, the most important being University of London Press Ltd. v. Tutorial Press Ltd.[2] In this case, the Court relied on the ‘Sweat of the Brow’ doctrine and observed that the work need not be original in a revolutionary way. However, it should not be of a trivial nature either. Certain efforts must be made to ascertain whether it is original. Further, the “Modicum of Creativity” test stipulates that the work must involve minimal originality to be authentic and copyrightable.

It has often been observed that street art is often plagiarised without permission, taking advantage of the loophole, i.e., the lack of clarity in the law that extends to the protection of such work. It is imperative to understand that whatever the medium, the artist employs skill and labour. The art depicts artistic value and creativity, with the medium typically being a fixed, tangible building surface. Thus, street art should fall under the protection of copyright law.

 

Street Art- Neither Illegal nor Immoral

 

Copyright has two conditions, as indicated above: the work must be unique and created on a specific tangible medium. However, there is a significant flaw because the rules do not address the type of artistic production that may be immoral or in conflict with the law. This raises the question of what would happen if someone stole a pen and drew a captivating portrait on paper or stole a camera and took a stunning photo. The apparent query is whether A and B can both request copyright protection. But the fundamental question is: given that their work is the result of theft, should such stolen works be entitled to protection? In theory, the response should be affirmative. Yes, the portrait and the image should be covered by copyright protection.

Although, in reality, graffiti art is inherently in conflict with the law, through a particular style or identifying tags, the creator of that artwork is easily identifiable. The Copyright Act of 1957 does not specify any requirements relating to the substance of a work other than originality for copyright to exist in the work. Graffiti is a stationary original artistic work of authorship that should be eligible for protection under “painting, graphic, drawing, and sculptural works”, according to a straightforward interpretation of sections 2(y) and 13 taken together. The Trade Marks Act of 1999 and the Patents Act of 1970, which forbid the protection of marks or inventions based on standards like obscenity and morality, contrast this. Therefore, it is abundantly evident what the legislative objective was, and the denial of copyright protection for illegal works was not intended.

There have been theories that graffiti should be excluded from copyright protection because they stand on the fact that the law should not impede social justice and that these artworks are immoral. Contrarily, the author holds that what is immoral does not necessarily mean it is illegal. Graffiti always depicts an idea or message that is legal and should not in any way be considered criminal. It is pertinent to notice the intent behind such an artwork and how it proves instrumental in benefiting society.

 

Protection from (Mis)Appropriation

 

The graffiti movement in India is in a very nascent stage and has not seen many judicial precedents. There have been instances where artwork has been done on the wall of a property, or original artwork has been appropriated, but these cases have not come up for adjudication by the courts. We shall understand appropriation art through the same case-moot points of copyright protection.

Let’s say that X noticed some graffiti on the side of a building and decided to take it as his own. The graffiti artist Y accuses X of violating his copyright. In Court, X asserts that Y violated property law and tort law by defacing the property, causing vandalism, and engaging in trespass while creating the unauthorised art. However, X will be a violator if the Court decides that the graffiti work was copyrighted. It is the doctrine of equitable defence. The party to a litigation who has acted reasonably and honestly can avail itself of defence in equity. And the person guilty of violating or infringing on someone’s right cannot be supported by it. In Tekla Corporations & Anr v. Survo Ghosh & Anr,[3] the Court considered whether an equitable defence is available to a copyright infringer. X, who violated Y’s right, may claim there was a violation. However, Y is not entitled to act against him because Y defaced the property wall and violated another law. The Delhi High Court decided in the negative. Therefore, the defence of unclean hands would fail if the graffiti is found copyrightable and the defendant is observed to be infringing the copyright.

The incentive-based theory is recognised as the primary defence of copyright by the Indian I.P. regime. The Indian Copyright Law’s immediate result is to ensure a just reward for the author’s labour. Still, its goal is to foster artistic creativity for the benefit of all people by providing this incentive. For instance, the United States Supreme Court stated that copyright’s monopoly privileges are “intended to encourage the creative work of authors as well as inventors by the provision of a special reward” in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. According to the incentive-based argument, authors will stop producing new works if free riders are permitted to appropriate others’ works. Copyright protection is required, as it relates to the graffiti movement, to motivate artists to produce more graffiti without the free-riders.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently affirmed this claim in the case of Castillo v. G&M Realty L.P., noting that street art has developed into much more than spray-painted tags and quickly disappearing bits adorned by rebellious urbanites, which is entitled to copyright protection.

Conclusion

Though the street artwork movement in India is at a snail’s pace, we must follow the covenants of international treaties to answer any dissecting viewpoints. The purpose of copyright should be the promotion of art, the free flow of creativity, and, consequently, the progress of society. These principles are primarily upheld by the Berne Convention and the TRIPS Agreement. It mandates that copyright protection be established upon the creation of the work with no need for formalities (such as registration), thus excluding any room for scrutiny of the work and/or evaluation of whether its content or creation process deserves copyright protection. Moreover, the Guide to the Berne Convention states that the work’s value, merit, or purpose is irrelevant to the enjoyment and exercise of copyright and emphasises the all-embracing copyright protection of all works, regardless of the manner or form of their expression.

It is crucial to understand that, even though it is not explicitly stated, the jurisprudence surrounding copyright is largely based on the theory of personality rights, which includes the author’s moral rights as stated in the Berne Convention as well as acknowledged by Indian copyright law. Since India is a signatory, if a case of similar stature arises, these treaties’ reasoning and analytical viewpoint will serve well in the Indian copyright context.

References: 

[1] Graffiti: At The Edge Of Copyright By Jonathan Bailey March 15, 2018 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2018/03/15/graffiti-at-the-edge-of-copyright/

[2] [1916] 2 Ch. 601

[3] CS(OS) 2414/2011

Image Credits: Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

Though the street artwork movement in India is at a snail’s pace, we must follow the covenants of international treaties to answer any dissecting viewpoints. The purpose of copyright should be the promotion of art, the free flow of creativity, and, consequently, the progress of society. These principles are primarily upheld by the Berne Convention and the TRIPS Agreement. It mandates that copyright protection be established upon the creation of the work with no need for formalities (such as registration), thus excluding any room for scrutiny of the work and/or evaluation of whether its content or creation process deserves copyright protection.

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Fluid Trademarks- A Brand’s Alter Identity

Recently in September, 2022 Amul- the most prominent dairy brand in India released a doodle, featuring the famous “Amul girl” celebrating the return of eight Cheetahs in the Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Over the years, the Brand has managed to position Amul Butter as a household staple through its alternate identity- Amul Girl. The Mascot regularly makes clever puns on the day-to-day political and policy developments while communicating their product’s “utterly butterly deliciousness”.

Fluid Trademarks- A Brand’s Alter Identity

                                                                        Fig: The recent Amul Doodle[1]

Creativity involves breaking expected patterns to look at things differently. The notion of being creative and deploying “out of the box” marketing strategies to drive brand and consumer growth is not a new concept. The ever-increasing competition and the digital revolution have forced brands to go out of their way to stay afresh and ahead of the competition while maintaining their brand identity.

Fluid Trademarks are a relatively new, up-and-coming category of marks that businesses are increasingly using to differentiate their brands and products from the competition. The Morehouse defence[2] (along with Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act)[3]  defines fluid trademarks as marks that change over time (with respect to the original or registered mark) to increase customer engagement. Albeit not explicitly defined, the defence serves as an equitable doctrine that applies when an applicant owns a prior registration “for essentially the same (or substantially similar) mark and goods or services, and for which registration has not been challenged.”

 

What are Fluid Marks?

 

Fluid Trademarks essentially serve as an expansion of the base marks, which are registered and known to the public. What makes these marks “fluid” is the interplay between different iterations of the base mark, which is characterised by the use of creative yet diverse graphical and visual components while maintaining the core features of the base mark.

Many brands frequently deploy such marks to commemorate certain special occasions or landmark happenings, enabling them to keep in touch with the ongoing trends and strengthen brand awareness by promoting interaction with the consumers.

For instance, Google’s ‘Doodle’ could be termed the quintessential fluid trademark, where different variants of the Google logo have been used over the years to mark or memorialise national/international events and festivities. Absolut Vodka is another brand that has been commercialising various iterations of its mark by launching special edition bottles to commemorate events. Some other examples of Fluid Marks being deployed by renowned brands in their marketing strategy include Nike’s ‘Just Don’t Do It’ Swoosh, BMW’s spaced logo citing ‘thanks for keeping distance’ during Covid-19, and Starbucks’ ‘Masked Mermaid’.[4]

While it is appreciable that brands are deploying newer strategies to connect with their consumers, the use of Fluid Trademarks presents some pertinent roadblocks when it comes to IP protection that these brands need to take note of.

 

Protection of Fluid Marks

 

Although there are no explicit provisions or synonymous precedents citing protection for fluid trademarks in India, registering each iteration of the base mark, which would just be deployed occasionally by these brands, would not make much business sense since it would not be cost-effective in the long run.

Section 15 of the Trademarks Act,[5] 1999 accords protection for a series of trademarks, but it is pertinent to highlight here that the section is effective only when all the variants of the base mark could be anticipated in advance,[6] which is not the case with Fluid Trademarks because of their dynamic nature.

Existing commercial identity and recognition of the base mark do accord common law protection to Fluid Marks. Still, it is pertinent for brand proprietors to consider the following essentials while endeavouring for the protection of Fluid Trademarks:

  • Protection for Unregistered Marks: Regardless of whether the brands have moved towards protecting their ‘fluid’ marks or not, the common law still subjects these marks to some sort of protection. In Proctor and Gamble v. Joy Creators,the Delhi High Court held that explicit resemblance need not be a ground to constitute an infringement of the trademark. Substantial resemblance to the primary features of the mark in question might be enough criterion to accord protection to the primary mark.
  • The Degree of Variation: The degree of variation of the base mark should be such that the mark retains its source-identifying features while simultaneously being different enough to command distinguished protection. The public should be able to identify the brand owner based on such iterations of their marks.
  • Likelihood of Confusion: Multiplicity of the base mark to an extent, such that it loses its source-identifying features, might expose the base mark to losing its distinctiveness, thereby putting the base mark at risk of not being synonymous with the proprietor anymore. Hence, the source-identifying features of the base mark should remain intact in the fluid mark to enable the public and trade to associate the fluid mark and the base mark with the proprietor.
  • Copyright Protection: Newer and fundamentally distinct iterations of the base mark may be afforded special protection under the Copyright law since the brands would be subjected to certain rights for their marks even if they are not registered. However, in establishing whether the proprietors would be entitled to a copyright on the mark, the burden of proof shall lie entirely on the proprietors themselves, and hence it would be advisable to maintain a record of the entire creative process, artwork and other resources, that went into the creation of the mark, to establish ownership.
  • Continuing Commercial Use and Identity: The base mark should be subject to constant and uninterrupted commercial use, and there should be no demonstration of abandonment of the base mark. While the base mark should be distinctive and recognised across the market, the unregistered ‘fluid mark’ should also be inherently distinctive and have acquired a secondary meaning within the public.[7]

The importance of having the base mark registered for the fluid mark to have any chance of protection was highlighted in the recent case of McGurr v. North Face Apparel Corp.[8], where the US-based artist, Futura, was denied protection for his recognisable, signature stylised atom design because the base mark, i.e., the shape of an atom, was not registered. The District Court for the Central District of California noted that legally recognising fluid trademarks “would give new meaning to federal trademark law with far-reaching consequences.” The court rather recognised copyright law as a more robust source of protection for entities facing similar situations.

 

Conclusion

 

Fluid Trademarks might be the future of brand building. They have indeed emerged as an excellent tool for businesses across the globe to engage and interact with their customers while simultaneously allowing them to keep in touch with ongoing trends. But as long as the legislature or the judiciary steps up and develops a robust set of guidelines for their protection, it would be feasible to work with an experienced IP attorney who could assist applicants to come up with a smarter plan of action for the protection of their dynamic and ‘fluid’ marks.

References:

[1] https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-in-india/amuls-latest-topical-celebrates-arrival-of-big-cats-in-india-8158728/

[2]  Morehouse Manufacturing Corp. v. J. Strickland and Co., 407 F.2d 881, 160 USPQ 715, 717 (CCPA 1969) (United States).

[3] The Lanham Act, 1946, § 43(a), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051-1141 (2006).

[4] These famous logos have been remade for the Coronavirus Age, Media Marketing, Accessible at: https://www.media-marketing.com/en/news/famous-logos-remade-coronavirus-age/

[5] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 15.

[6] Draft Manual of Trademarks, 2015. Accessible at: https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOGuidelinesManuals/1_32_1_tmr-draft-manual.pdf

[7] Louis Vuitton Malletier v. Dooney & Burke, Inc, 454 F.3d 108 (2d Cir. 2006) (United States).

[8] McGurr v. N. Face Apparel Corp., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 196568 (United States).

Image Credit: Photo by Eva Bronzini

Fluid Trademarks essentially serve as an expansion of the base marks, which are registered and known to the public. What makes these marks “fluid” is the interplay between different iterations of the base mark, which is characterised by the use of creative yet diverse graphical and visual components while maintaining the core features of the base mark.

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The Next Play- Block Chain, Sports and Tourism

The excitement and intrigue surrounding cryptocurrency might have fizzled out, but alternate use cases of the blockchain have found roots for varied purposes, such as electronic health records, land records, farm insurance, digital certificates, etc., across as many as thirteen states in the country. 

 

In partnership with a platform called Yunometa, the State of Tamil Nadu recently launched the Women’s Chennai Open in the world of Metaverse and NFTs on September 10, 2022 (https://chennaiopen.co/). With this launch, the synergies between sports and technology are being explored further. Sports enthusiasts will now be able to view the Chennai Open (women) in the metaverse and watch it live. 

The Chennai Open Metaverse will have a tennis court where visitors can choose their avatars, including their favourite players, and play a match. There is also a media section where they can visit and get regular updates on the events’ matches. The metaverse will further have two more sections, i.e., an NFT museum section to display tourism and culture for the State of Tamil Nadu and a section for virtual tours of Tamil Nadu’s most well-known tourist destinations, such as Fort St. George, Meenakshi Temple, and Mahabalipuram Temple, amongst others. 

It seems to be a great initiative not only to enjoy sports in a new way but also to showcase the culture of Tamil Nadu, which may have a ripple effect on the tourism industry.

According to a recent study by Finder, released in 2022, India is ranked first in NFT gaming adoption. As per the report, around 34% of the Indian population has played P2E games[1], while 11% have shown a willingness to play them in the future.[2] Further, the size of the Indian eSports industry is expected to grow to INR 11 billion by FY2025 and potentially generate an economic impact of INR 100 billion between FY2021 and FY2025.[3]

While the statistics paint an impressive picture of the industry’s potential, it would be imperative to note that the legal landscape is definitely ‘glitching’ while trying to adopt a legislative pathway that would foster yet effectively regulate the sector.

At present, the policy focus of the government pertains to taxation only. However, with the increase in the participation of gamers, it is also prudent to address user safety issues by creating guidelines and standards for privacy, fraud prevention, structuring appropriate KYC procedures and payment mechanisms, and ensuring overall ease of doing business, regulatory certainty, and taxes.

The policy initiatives undertaken by the government in the recent past, including the Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, 2022, which failed to address key concerns such as privacy, age-verification of players, defining casual online gaming, and money-based gaming, have shown a lack of a comprehensive approach to resolving the crucial issues. Similarly, the Inter-ministerial Panel on Online Gaming formed in May 2022 has, till now, only issued a slew of suggestions ranging from issuing a cap on deposit and withdrawal limits on the game winnings to recommending forming a regulatory body to distinguish between “games of skill” and “games of chance,” differential GST treatment, blocking prohibited gaming formats, and issuing a stricter stance on gambling websites.

In addition, the Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and Comics Task Force (AVGC) was set up in April this year and commissioned to formulate a national AVGC policy to attract foreign direct investment in the sector and to recommend a national curriculum framework, facilitate skilling initiatives, and boost employment opportunities within the sector has yet to submit its first action plan.

The Draft Virtual Online Sports Regulation Bill released by the Rajasthan government in May 2022[4] seems encouraging since it envisages structuring a licensing regime and establishing a Rajasthan Virtual Online Gaming Commission that shall be tasked with recommending conditions for licences, recognising “self-regulatory organisations,” and issuing advisories, caution notices, and recommendations to self-regulatory organisations. However, the Bill only applies to “esports competitions, fantasy sports, and derivative formats as provided by the sports engagement platforms” and leaves poker, rummy, ludo, and other such games of skill outside its purview.

It is safe to conclude that, at present, the central and the respective state governments have fallen short of formulating a cohesive set of legislation on online gaming. Further, with the integration of blockchain with gaming, it would also be crucial for the government to finally take a stand on laws regulating cryptocurrency in the country.

Shaping a comprehensive regulation on blockchain gaming would also necessitate the concerted deliberation and collaboration of various stakeholders in the industry, as current laws largely fail to address important concerns such as privacy, fraud, user safety, and so on.

It is safe to conclude that, at present, the central and the respective state governments have fallen short of formulating a cohesive set of legislation on online gaming. Further, with the integration of blockchain with gaming, it would also be crucial for the government to finally take a stand on laws regulating cryptocurrency in the country.

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Securing your Data with the Trade Marks Registry

Data privacy has been a cause of concern for individuals and corporates, however, when sharing personal information with government authorities, we tend to overlook this concern. Has one ever wondered how secure her confidential, proprietary, or personal information is while sharing it with a government agency like the Trade Marks Registry?

Indian Intellectual Property Offices come under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; therefore, they are under the control of the Central Government. The Trade Marks Registry, established in 1940, primarily acts as a facilitator in matters relating to the registration of trademarks in India.

The Trade Marks Registry (TMR) is a public filing system. That means once a trademark application is filed with the TMR, a lot of information is placed on record, including the applicant’s and its representative’s personal data, such as mailing address, and the proof of use of the trademark. The digitization of the Registry in 2017 prompted the current practice of recording information on a public access system.

 

Fundamental Concerns

Mailing Address: Open and easy access to such personal information exposes an applicant to scams and other unwanted solicitations. For instance, scam emails (that appear to have been sent by the TMR seeking maintenance fees) from third parties attempt to deceive applicants into paying additional fees. Everyone recalls how anyone who filed an international application between 2005 and 2015 was duped by international scammers who obtained their information from the WIPO. By oversight, many people were duped into paying huge amounts of money.

If an attorney represents an applicant, the TMR does not send correspondence about the trademark application directly to the applicant. In such cases, the Registry directly communicates with their authorised attorneys. Hence, if an applicant receives any mail relating to their trademark, they should consult their attorneys, who may evaluate it to guarantee that a scam letter is not mistaken for real contact.

Documents to support the use of the mark: Applicants are frequently required to submit documentary evidence to support their applications and commercial use of their marks. Such evidence is often public, but an applicant might disclose information they would not intend to make public, such as bills, financial papers, reports, and other confidential information. There is no mechanism to have them masked or deleted from the TMR’s database if such information is uploaded or disclosed.

 

Initiatives by the Trade Mark Registry

In recent times, the TMR has adopted the practice of restricting public access to evidentiary documents submitted during opposition/rectification proceedings that the competing parties upload on the TMR. However, similar documents filed during any other stage, such as filing and pre-opposition prosecution, are still exposed to public access, even if they are documents or information relating to commercial confidence, trade secrets, and/or any other form of confidential, proprietary, or personal information.

However, the advantage of such an open and publicly available database is that it serves as a countrywide “notice,” which means that an alleged infringer of your trademark cannot claim ignorance of your brand. However, disclosure of such information exposes applicants to email scams and other unwanted solicitations and can also harm their competitive position in the market.

In September 2019, on account of various representations made by numerous stakeholders regarding the TMR’s display of confidential, proprietary, and personal information,[1] a public notice was issued by the Registry, inviting stakeholders’ comments on the aforesaid concerns.

The TMR proposed the classification of such documents into two categories:

  • Category I: Documents that are fully accessible and available for viewing or downloading by the public.
  • Category II: Documents for which details will be available in the document description column, but viewing and downloading will be restricted.

 

Roadblocks and Viable Course of Action

Notably, the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, obligates public authorities to make information on their respective platforms available to the public in a convenient and easily accessible manner. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, i.e., information related to commercial confidence and trade secrets is exempted from being disclosed or made accessible to the public in so far as their disclosure leads to a competitive handicap for the disclosing party. Personal information is also exempted to the extent that its disclosure leads to an invasion of privacy or if it has no relation to public activity or interest.

Hence, it is crucial to understand that while such a classification, as has been suggested by the TMR above, might seem like a good initiative on the surface, the lack of any concrete boundaries assigned to the terms “confidential” or “personal” information leaves the Registry with unquestioned discretion to generalise datasets and to restrict access to documents on the TMR website. A simple example could be data collected by the TMR through pre-designated forms, including Form TM A, Form TM O, etc. Most of these forms generally mandate the submission of certain personal information, including the proprietor’s name, address, telephone number, etc. However, this cannot simply mean that the TMR denies the general public access to such trademark application forms, as this would defeat the primary goal of advertising such marks on the Registry, which is to seek any opposition or evidence against such marks. Thus, while the objective behind such a classification of documents might be well-intended, restriction of access to certain documents might lead to a conflict of interest for the TMR, and it might end up over-complicating the due-diligence processes, leading to increased costs and resources.

Such generalised classifications are, hence, only viable in theory. The TMR might end up entertaining hundreds of RTI applications if it decides to limit access to certain documents, which might be necessary for proper due diligence and prosecution. The free and open availability of documents enables the public to have smoother and easier access to essential records and credentials of the trademark proprietors, thereby allowing the masses to have a better understanding of the prosecution history of important trademarks of the target company.

In the long run, a rather sustainable alternative for the TMR might be introducing a multi-factor authentication system for the parties interested in carrying out due diligence or prosecution against a mark. A multi-factor authentication system for gaining access to the records and documents on the Registry might lengthen the entire process in the short run. Nonetheless, the move could be game changer in the long run because it would allow the Registry to restrict access to confidential and personal data of its users to parties with an original or vested interest in the registration of a mark.

Such an approach would not only enable the Registry to provide open and efficient access to necessary documents to the parties who have an original or vested interest in the registration of a mark, but it would simultaneously vest it with the flexibility to protect the sensitive, confidential, as well as personal data of its users from scammers or non-interested parties.

 

Privacy-by-Design

A Privacy-by-Design approach is the future of the modern-day web, and as long as the Registry does not implement more elaborate internal safeguards on its website and databases to protect the privacy and integrity of public data contained therein, it is always recommended that applicants work with an experienced trademark attorney who can assist applicants in reducing the exposure of their information to individuals or a class of individuals with ulterior motives and mitigating the harm associated with the usage of their data.

References:

[1] Public Notice dated 06/09/2019 re Categorization of Documents on the TMR. Accessible at: https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/Images/pdf/Catergorization_of_Docs.pdf.

The Trade Marks Registry (TMR) is a public filing system. That means once a trademark application is filed with the TMR, a lot of information is placed on record, including the applicant’s and its representative’s personal data, such as mailing address and the proof of use of the trademark. 

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Gems vs James Bond: Delhi High Court Rules in Favour of Cadbury

In a long-pending case of trademark infringement dispute between Mondelez Indian Foods Pvt. Ltd, formerly Cadbury India Limited (Plaintiff) and Neeraj Food Products (Defendants), the Delhi High Court issued a permanent and mandatory injunction against the Defendant for trading “James Bond”- a chocolate product which bore deceptive similarity to Cadbury’s trademark “Gems”. The Court also imposed a fine of INR 15 Lakhs on the defendant for the copyright infringement.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2005 against the defendant, the sole proprietorship of Mr. Charan Das. Plaintiff 1– Cadbury India Ltd. and Plaintiff 2– Cadbury Schweppes Overseas Limited claimed ownership of the mark ‘CADBURY GEMS’ or ‘GEMS’. The Plaintiffs claim that the defendant launched a chocolate product under the name ‘JAMES BOND’ with the identical colour scheme, layout, and arrangement as the ‘CADBURY GEMS’ or ‘GEMS’ products.

Further, the Plaintiffs also claimed that the product “James Bond” also stood in infringement of the copyright and trademark registration, under its former name, Hindustan Cocoa Products Ltd., bearing registration numbers A-50680/90 and A-49975/89 in respect to a character referred to as “Gems Bond”, often used in various marketing campaigns of their product.

                                           Figure: Packaging of Cadbury Gems and James Bond[1]

Hence, the lawsuit sought a permanent and mandatory injunction and damages for trademark and copyright infringement, passing off, unfair competition and other relief.

The Court observed that the packaging of the Plaintiffs’ ‘GEMS’ product is very unique, with illustrations of colourful button chocolates on a blue/purple base with the mark ‘GEMS’ depicted in a number of colours and a splash in the middle, which is very well known to the young and the old alike.

Numerous “GEMS” advertisements feature the phrase “GEMS BOND,” and some examples have also been made public. The defendant’s packaging features colourful button chocolates and the mark “JAMES BOND”/”JAMEY BOND” with the same blue/purple foundation. The trademark “GEMS” appears on a brown background on both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s products. The label and packaging for the Plaintiffs’ product share the same colour palette as the Defendant’s product. Additionally, the marks are misleadingly and confusingly similar. Therefore, the court categorised the situation as an instance of res ipsa loquitur.

The Court referred to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Corn Products Refining Co. v. Shangrila Food Products Ltd., (1960) 1 SCR 968 and Parle Products (P) Ltd. v. J.P. & Co., Mysore, in which the contention of the test of infringement and deceptive similarity of competing marks (1972) 1 SCC 618 was settled, wherein it was observed that “the overall structural and phonetic similarity and the similarity of the idea in the two marks is reasonably likely to cause a confusion between them and the Court has to see the similarities and not the dissimilarities.”

The Court also placed reliance on the decision of ITC Ltd. v. Britannia Industries Ltd. 2016 SCC OnLine Del 5004, in which it was observed that “Where the product is eatable like a biscuit, the colour and the colour scheme of the packaging play an important role in the consumer making an initial choice and in enabling a discerning consumer to locate the particular brand of a manufacturer.”

Further, while discussing the concept of ‘initial interest in the same judgment, the Court relied on Baker Hughes Limited v. Hiroo Khushalani, while observing, “In some cases, however, it is also possible that a purchaser, after having been misled into an initial interest in a product manufactured by an imitator, discovers his folly, but this initial interest, being based on confusion and deception, can give rise to a cause of action for the tort of passing off as the purchaser has been made to think that there is some connection or nexus between the products and business of two disparate companies.”

However, that may not be entirely true when it comes to products like biscuits. The packaging of a biscuit does become associated with the manufacturer or brand. The colour of the wrapper would certainly play an important role.

In the present case, the Court opined, inter alia, that the product- ‘GEMS’ is also usually liked and consumed by small children in both urban and rural areas. Therefore, in such a case, the test shall not be limited to that of absolute confusion, but even the likelihood of confusion shall be deemed sufficient. Hence, the product’s layout and the colour combination of the packaging play a vital role when making a purchase. Moreover, chocolates are not merely sold in retail stores or outlets but also at roadside shacks, paan shops, patri vendors, kirana stores and stalls outside schools, etc. Thus, considering that the class of consumers the product is targeted at is children, the likelihood of confusion stands high.

In conclusion, it can be inferred by the Delhi High Court’s decision that the test for the likelihood of confusion stands on several factors, including the product category in dispute and the consumer demographic it appeals to. As observed by the Court, ‘almost everyone’s childhood is associated with Cadbury Gems’; the product was popular amongst many consumers of all ages and across socio-economic backgrounds. Further, the strikingly similar colour scheme of the packets and layouts and the phonetic sounds of the two products were enough to inspire a “likelihood of confusion” at the point of purchase by the consumer, which led the Court to take a firm stand in favour of the Plaintiff.

It can be inferred by the Delhi High Court’s decision that the test for the likelihood of confusion stands on several factors, including the product category in dispute and the consumer demographic it appeals to. As observed by the Court, ‘almost everyone’s childhood is associated with Cadbury Gems’; the product was popular amongst many consumers of all ages and across socio-economic backgrounds.

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Streamlining the Patent Process in Startups: A Pressing Priority

India has leveraged the startup ecosystem by offering a conducive environment to make them powerhouses of innovation. According to the Economic Survey 2021-22, the number of new recognised start-ups increased to over 14,000 in 2021-22 up from 733 in 2016-17. The survey further emphasized that intellectual property (IP), notably patents, was the key to a robust knowledge-based economy.

Similar to any other business undertaking, startups interact with various stakeholders, including employees, who regularly exchange ideas and develop key IP. Hence, business operations that significantly rely on IP exchange need an optimized and watertight structure of intellectual property rights protection, especially when they aspire to cater to international markets. In line with the growing importance of startups and IP, the government of India has launched the “Start-up India, Stand-up India Scheme” to support early-stage startups.

 

Recognition as a ‘Startup’

 

Entities to qualify as a ‘startup’ need to be recognized by the competent authority under the START-UP INDIA initiative and fulfil all the criteria for the same. For the sake of more clarity, the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade issued a notification in 2019[1] according to which an entity incorporated as a private limited company, a partnership firm, or a limited liability partnership in India can be considered a startup for up to ten years if its turnover since its incorporation has not exceeded one hundred crore rupees.

Further, such an entity should be actively working towards “innovation, development or improvement of products or processes or services, or if it is a scalable business model with a high potential for employment generation or wealth creation.” Notably, an entity formed due to restructuring or splitting up an existing business cannot be deemed a startup.

A foreign entity can also be considered a start-up if it fulfils the criteria of turnover and specified period of incorporation/registration and submits a valid declaration to substantiate the requisites as per the provisions of the START-UP INDIA initiative.

 

Minding the IP of Business

 

An important criterion for getting startup registration is that the entity should be working to innovate, develop or improve products, processes or services. To protect technical innovation, patent registration is crucial, especially for startups, where the start-up’s success is tied to the novelty of their product and process. The DPIIT has recognised a total of 69,492 startups to date. In addition, startups have filed a total of 6000+ patent applications.7

A product or process with patent protection helps create a solid business model, enabling them to earn a good market reputation, a return on investment (ROI), and access new opportunities for expansion and generate funds.

To this effect, businesses can undertake the following best practices to optimise their inventions and ideas:

  1. Build an IP culture that drives innovation in the organization. For instance, implementing rewarding ownership strategies, implementing IP incentive schemes, encouraging teams to research and identify areas where valuable IP protection can be secured, etc.
  2. Foster IP awareness within the organization.
  3. Build an IP protection system that is driven by strong policy and practice. Organisations should focus on structuring agile protection strategies that prevent knowledge leaks. Undertaking regular IP audits and compressive risk analysis should be the focus.
  4. Once the IP is protected, its commercialization should be the focus. Additionally, organisations should be aware of their IP infringement and take proactive measures to enforce their rights effectively.

 

Gaining Traction with DPIIT Recognition

 

Benefits from Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

 

A startup recognised by the DPIIT is eligible for tax breaks on:

  • Prior Turnover
  • Prior Experience
  • Earnest Money Deposit

DPIIT recognised startups can now get listed as sellers on the government e-Marketplace.

Self-certification Under Labour & Environment Laws

  • Startups are allowed to self-certify their compliance with nine labour and three environmental laws for 3 to 5 years from the date of incorporation.
  • In respect of three environmental laws, units operating under 36 white category industries (as published on the website of the Central Pollution Control Board) do not require clearance under three Environment-related Acts for three years. Hence, startups can focus on their core business and keep compliance costs low.

Fund of Funds for Startups (FFS)

  • The government has set up a corpus fund of INR 10,000 Cr. INR 5409.45 cr has been committed to 71 VC firms. In total, INR 5811.29 Cr was invested in 443 startups. 

Faster Exit for Startups

  • As per the Govt Notification, startups are now notified as “fast track firms”, enabling them to wind up the operations of their startups in 90 days.

Seed Fund Scheme

  • Grant up to INR 20 lakh to validate proof of concept, prototype development, or product trials.
  • Grant up to INR 50 lakh for market entry, commercialisation, or scaling up.

Tax Relief

  • Recognised startups are exempted from Income Tax for 3 consecutive years out of the 10 years since incorporation.
  • Startups incorporated on or after April 1 2016, but before April 1 2022, can apply for an income tax exemption under Section 80-IAC of the Income Tax Act.

 

Patent Incentives for Start-ups in India

 

Patent Facilitators

 

The government has identified over 226 local patent facilitators[2] to extend their expertise to DPIIT-recognised startups. The government would reimburse these facilitators for their services.

Patent facilitators are responsible for:

  • Providing general advisory services on a pro bono basis
  • Providing pro bono assistance with IPR filings
  • Assisting with the filing and disposal of IP applications at the National IP offices under CGPDTM
  • Drafting specifications (provisional and final)
  • Preparing and filing responses to examination reports and other queries, notices or letters by the IP offices
  • Appearing at hearings as may be scheduled
  • Contesting opposition, if any, by other parties
  • Final disposal of the IP application. 

 

Fee

 

The government has provided 80% rebate on the patent filing fee to make the process more attractive.

 

Expedited patent registration process:

 

Expedited Examination can be made by filing Form 18A accompanied by Form 9 (Publication). A request filed under a Regular Examination request via Form 18 (rule 24B) can be converted to an Expedited Examination by submitting Form 18A and Form 9.

The IPO has significantly reduced the duration of the patent timeline.

  • Publication: Within 1 month from the date of filing of Form 9.
  • Issuance of the First Examination Report (FER) to the Applicant: Within one month, but no more than two months, from the date the patent application is assigned to the Examiner; and within 45 days from the date, the Examiner submits the FER to the Patent Controller.
  • Response to the First Examination Report by Applicant: Within 6 months of receiving the FER from the IPO.
  • Disposal of the First Examination Report (FER) by the Controller: Within 3 months from the receipt of the last reply from the Applicant.

 

Conclusion

 

The objective of innovation and promoting patent filing by startups is simple, i.e., a patent is directly related to innovation and contributes to significant economic growth for a startup. The upsurge of startups has also led to massive employment generation, with over 5,60,000 jobs in 2016-2020. Hence, it is imperative to have an enabling ecosystem where entrepreneurs are encouraged to file more IPs seamlessly. While launching incentivized schemes and actively working towards reducing the compliance burden for new businesses when filing IP applications is a step in the right direction, there is still a pressing need to address the issues of procedural delays and complex patent processes to tap into the intellectual prowess of the country.

The objective of innovation and promoting patent filing by startups is simple, i.e., a patent is directly related to innovation and contributes to significant economic growth for a startup. The upsurge of startups has also led to massive employment generation, with over 5,60,000 jobs in 2016-2020. Hence, it is imperative to have an enabling ecosystem where entrepreneurs are encouraged to file more IPs seamlessly.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Foreign Filing Licence (FFL) In India

Like any other IP right, a patent is also a jurisdictional right confined to the jurisdiction where the application is filed, and the rights granted. A patent is also considered a negative right, which enables the patentee to prohibit others from manufacturing, using, selling, and distributing the patented goods and services. If the invention is not protected in a specific jurisdiction, it can be used by any third party without restrictions. Hence, the applicants must choose jurisdictions carefully to safeguard their inventions in those countries.

Given that a patent is a valuable asset that can aid international business expansion, businesses must develop a foreign filing strategy. The strategy could be based on specific parameters like potential markets, manufacturing centres, competitors, emerging markets, and licencing opportunities to decide where to seek protection for their invention.

Apart from the specific parameters outlined above, the applicant must be aware of particular provisions of the Patents Act, 1970, which forbid Indian residents from filing patent applications outside India without first filing in India.

It is pertinent to note that, as an exception, a patent application can be directly filed outside India by an individual (Indian Resident) by seeking prior approval from the Indian Patent Office. This is referred to as a Foreign Filing Licence (FFL), as envisaged under Section 39 of the Indian Patent Act, 1970.

 

What is the objective of providing the option of a Foreign Filing Licence?

The primary objective of FFL is to analyse patent applications for sensitive technological information or subject matter to prevent the unauthorised export of valuable knowledge to foreign countries. The FFL assists the Indian Patent Office/government in determining the patent application’s sensitive subject matter (pertaining to defence or atomic energy). Once it is ascertained that there are no issues with disclosing the details of the invention to a foreign country, the Indian Patent Office usually grants the Foreign Filing Licence within 21 days of receiving the request.

When the applicant is not required to seek a Foreign Filing Licence
  • When the applicant is not a resident of India, and the invention was created outside of the country.
  • If the applicant is a resident of India who filed a patent application in India six weeks before filing a patent application in another jurisdiction.
When the applicant is required to seek a Foreign Filing Licence
  • When the applicant or inventor is a resident of India.
  • When the applicant does not wish to file a patent application in India before filing a patent application outside of India.
  • When the applicant is a resident of India, a patent application has been filed in India, but the six-week term has not yet expired.

It is important to note that if the invention is related to nuclear energy or defence, the Indian Patent Office may not issue the FFL without the prior consent of the Central Government.

 

Statutory provisions governing Foreign Filing Licence in India

Rule 71 of the Patent Rules, 2003 describes the procedure and mandates seeking permission to file a patent application outside India.  

Rule 71: Permission for filing patent applications outside India under section 39.

“(1) The request for permission to submit a patent application outside India shall be made on Form 25.

(2) The Controller must respond to a request made under sub-rule (1) within twenty-one days of the request being filed.

Provided that in the case of inventions relating to defence or atomic energy, the period of twenty-one days shall be counted from the date of receipt of consent from the Central Government.”

 

Requirements for Seeking a Foreign Filing Licence

Since the main objective of FFL is to examine the nature of inventions and technologies in the nation’s best interest, an applicant must sufficiently disclose the invention’s details, including the title, description, and drawings (if any). In addition to the above information, the applicant must submit the following forms with all required data.

Form-25[1]: to request permission to make a patent application outside India. Form 25 must include:

  • Title of the invention
  • Name, address, and nationality of inventors who are “resident in India,”
  • Name and address of the applicant if rights have been assigned to the applicant.
  • Names of foreign countries where the application will be submitted once the Foreign Filing Licence is issued.
  • Reason for making such an application.

Form-26[2]: Power of Attorney (POA) from the inventor(s) or applicant residing in India and appointing a patent agent to represent them.

 

Can a Foreign National Apply for a Patent in India?

As outlined above, an Indian Foreign Filing Licence is not applicable for foreign nationals filing a patent application in India. A foreign national may apply for a patent in India by following one of the two routes mentioned below:

  1. Paris Convention Route: Under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property, a foreign national of a convention country can use the convention route to file a patent application in India. Any invention filed in their home country may also be filed for patent protection in India within 12 months by claiming priority from the earliest filed application in their home country.
  1. Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) Route: A foreign national may also file a patent application in India under the PCT route.

However, if they intend to file a patent application directly in India, they must follow their country’s patent law to confirm if there is a similar requirement in their jurisdiction.

Even though FFL enables Indian residents to file patent applications directly in a foreign country without filing the first application in India, inventors and the applicants (who are Indian residents) must strictly comply with the requirements of the FFL discussed above to avoid serious consequences, including imprisonment for a term of up to two years, or a fine, or both.

Even though Foreign Filing Licence (FFL) enables Indian residents to file patent applications directly in a foreign country without filing the first application in India, inventors and the applicants (who are Indian residents) must strictly comply with the requirements of the FFL discussed above to avoid serious consequences, including imprisonment for a term of up to two years, or a fine, or both.

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