Though the pandemic seems to be receding across the world, the problems that it has created seem to be multiplying, and the legal system has been grappling trying to address the issues affecting business. The High Court of Delhi, in a recent judgment, Dr. Reddys Laboratories Limited vs. the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, sent shockwaves through the system.
The petitioners had filed writ petitions against the haphazard manner in which the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (“CGPDTM”) had handled the filing of Trademark opposition proceedings during the pandemic. The petitioners were aggrieved when they discovered that opposition proceedings couldn’t be initiated on the online portal of the Trademarks Registry post the statutory timelines of four (4) months, as prescribed under Section 21 of the Trademarks Act, 1999. However, the Supreme Court in Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020, titled In Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation, had extended the statutory time period in India. Additionally, the Trademarks Registry also refused to accept such oppositions when filed manually. Further, the Trademarks Registry went on to issue the Certificates of Registration even though they were aware of the requests to initiate opposition.
The Supreme Court had clearly stated in the aforementioned order that “the time period between March 15, 2020, and February 28, 2022, has to be fully excluded for the purpose of calculating limitation under all enactments and statutes, both before judicial and quasi-judicial bodies.” The CGDPTM had also reaffirmed the above order vide its notice of January 18, 2022. The petitioners argued that the non-acceptance of the oppositions was in contravention of the Supreme Court order, especially as it had been reaffirmed by the CGDPTM as well.
The officials of the CGDPTM also informed the court that more than 4 lakh registration certificates had been granted during this period. Further, vide an affidavit submitted by the CGDPTM, it was affirmed that 113517 oppositions were filed between the periods of March 24, 2020, and February 28, 2022. It was also mentioned that “6,000-7,000 oppositions have been filed during the pandemic period beyond the four-month period of limitation, and the same have also been entertained.” Thus, the CGDPTM has been accepting oppositions in a very haphazard manner, undermining the rights of those who wished to initiate opposition actions and has also issued Certificates of Registration, granting challengeable rights to applicants.
As the limitation period in terms of the orders of the Supreme Court would have been extended for filing oppositions to the said applications until the expiry of 90 days from March 1, 2022, i.e., till May 30, 2022, the High Court of Delhi has instructed as follows:
- Opponents must send emails expressing their interest in opposing any of the marks until May 30, 2022. On receipt of any such email, even if the mark currently stands as opposed, the CGDPTM is to facilitate the filing of the opposition either through the online platform or by accepting the same manually.
- If the mark stands registered, and in the absence of any request to oppose the marks by May 30, 2022, the mark will continue to stand registered.
- For those marks that stand as registered, if the opposition is received by May 30, 2022, the Certificates of Registration shall stand suspended till the opposition is decided upon.
The High Court of Delhi has also gone on to caution the CGDPTM and instructed them to develop a mechanism to dispose of the huge backlog of opposition currently pending at their end.
Right holders, especially those who are in receipt of the Certificates of Registration, will need to keep their fingers crossed that no oppositions are filed by May 30, 2022. Furthermore, infringement proceedings may not be initiated against infringing parties until the May 30, 2022 deadline.
The haphazard handling of the opposition proceedings in this time period has created both a logistic nightmare as well as hampered the rights of numerous applicants. With more skeletons coming out of the closet of the CGDPTM, it remains to be seen how they are handled. The High Court of Delhi needs to be lauded for taking such a sensitive issue and handling it at the earliest.
Exciting times to navigate through the curveballs thrown by the CGDPTM.
The haphazard handling of the opposition proceedings in this time period has created both a logistic nightmare as well as hampered the rights of numerous applicants. With more skeletons coming out of the closet of the CGDPTM, it remains to be seen how they are handled.