Intermediaries' Obligation to Pursue Complaints Against Infringers: Analysing the Latest Interpretation

The recent interim order dated March 1, 2023, issued by the Delhi High Court in Samridhi Enterprises vs. Flipkart Internet Private Ltd.[1] had sparked a lot of debate and confusion among the public concerning the liability of an intermediary. As per the order of the High Court, an intermediary is not obligated to take action in cases of infringement reported by their users. The Hon’ble Court delved deeply into the interpretation of Rule 3 of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, on the question of whether there exists an obligation on the part of intermediaries to act on complaints against infringers.   


The plaintiff was in the business of manufacturing and selling car covers under the marks “UK Blue” and “Autofact” and had been selling them on Flipkart since 2018. The plaintiff happened to notice that some other entities started to copy their designs, looks and marketing strategies on the Flipkart platform itself. Apart from the fact that the covers were identical, the infringers also sold these covers in a fashion similar to that of the plaintiff’s company to create confusion and boost their sales.

The plaintiff had informed and reported to Flipkart about the infringement of their products by placing screenshots and other similar evidences of infringement committed by the infringer on record. The platform refused to take any action against the infringers and advised the plaintiff to approach a court of law for redressal of IPR disputes.

The plaintiff approached the Delhi High Court, citing that Flipkart cannot act as an intermediary if it fails to adhere to its obligations as an intermediary and to observe important due diligence mandated by Rule 3(2) of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

Law Involved

Rule 3(1)(b)(iv) requires intermediaries to inform their users of their privacy policy, rules and regulations and user agreement and shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that any information that infringes any patent, copyright, trademark, or other proprietary rights shall not be hosted, displayed, uploaded, modified, published, transmitted, stored, updated, or shared by the intermediary.

Rule 3(2)(a) of the IT rules requires the intermediary to publish on its website the details of the grievance officer and the mechanism by which a user could complain about any possible violations. Further, it requires the officer to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve the issue within a period of 15 days.  

The plaintiff relied on these two sections to further their claim of infringement against Flipkart. 

Rule 3 (2)(1) (proviso) provides for intermediaries to acknowledge any complaint within 24 hours and resolve all such complaints within 15 days from their receipt. Moreover, the proviso also calls upon the intermediary to develop appropriate safeguards to avoid any misuse by users.

The Ruling

The Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that Rule 3(2)(a) only envisages complaints regarding violations of the obligation imposed on the intermediary under the rules. There is no scope for the intermediary to take any kind of action against the infringer upon receipt of the complaint. The same argument was also put forth by the court when the question surrounding Rule 3(1)(b)(iv) was raised, and the court clarified that the rule merely provides for intermediaries to inform users not to display or host infringing content. The rule does not mandate or require the intermediary to take any action upon receipt of the complaint of infringement.   

The Hon’ble Court stated that it cannot read into IT rules something that the rules do not contain expressly or by necessary implication. It further said that, “where the applicable statutory rules do not envisage action being taken by an intermediary merely on the complaint being made by an aggrieved victim or user regarding infringement of intellectual property rights, by content posted on the platform of the intermediary, the court cannot, by placing reliance on an internal policy of a particular intermediary, read into Clause 3 any such requirement, especially where such a provision existed in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 and has consciously been omitted in the 2021 Rules”.  

The Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that the complaint against Flipkart that it is not taking action does not appear to be sustainable due to the above-mentioned reasons. However, a prima facie case of copyright violation was made out by the court and in order to protect the plaintiff from any further damages, an interlocutory injunction was granted against listing the alleged infringing content.

General Observations 

Though the Hon’ble Court did grant the injunction to protect the plaintiff from the ongoing infringement occurring on the platform, the main essence of the IT Act and rules was not taken into consideration while discharging Flipkart of any liability.

The plaintiff erred in not considering the many precedents laid by this very same court. For instance, in Super Cassettes Industries Ltd. vs. Myspace Inc. & Anr1, the court said that “I find that there is no impact of the provisions of Section 79 of the IT Act (as amended in 2009) on copyright infringements relating to internet wrongs where intermediaries are involved and the said provision cannot curtail the rights of the copyright owner by operation of the proviso of Section 81 which carves out an exception for cases relating to copyright or patent infringement”. 

The case witnessed that the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, overrode the provision of the safe harbour granted by the IT Act under Section 79. The Hon’ble Court relied on Section 81 of the IT Act, which provides for an exemption for people exercising their rights under the Copyright Act and the Patent Act. The Hon’ble Court should have recognised this precedent and acknowledged the obligation it posed to the intermediary to remove such infringing products from its platform.   

It doesn’t end here. The court should have considered in what instance the immunity available for intermediaries will be impacted under Section 79 of the IT Act. Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act states that upon receiving actual knowledge of an unlawful act connected to the computer resource controlled by the intermediary, the intermediary shall expeditiously remove or disable access to such infringing material. If such action is not undertaken by the intermediary, it shall lose the safe harbour guaranteed by Section 79. If safe harbour protection is not available, then allowing an infringement to take place on their platform may constitute abetment and unlawful activity which in turn would make them liable under the law of the land.  

Another striking part of the order is that, even though the Hon’ble Court completely relied on the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the court failed to read into Rule 3 (2) (1) of the IT Rules 2021. The proviso of the rule clearly stipulates that any complaint received from the user other than under Subclauses (i), (iv), and (ix) needs to be expeditiously resolved within 72 hours by the grievance officer. That does not take away the primary obligation of the intermediary to act within the 15 days mandated in the main provision in relation to such excluded matters, including cases of IP infringement. It is astonishing that the court or the parties gave more emphasis to the proviso than the main clause under Rule 3(2)(a)(i). 

Initially, Rule 3(2)(b) was worded as follows: “(i) acknowledge the complaint within twenty-four hours and dispose off such complaint within a period of fifteen days from the date of its receipt;  

(ii) receive and acknowledge any order, notice or direction issued by the Appropriate Government, any competent authority or a court of competent jurisdiction.”.   

On October 28, 2022, the government amended the above rule to read as follows: “acknowledge the complaint within twenty-four hours and resolve such complaint within a period of fifteen days from the date of its receipt: 

Provided that the complaint in the nature of request for removal of information or communication link relating to clause (b) of sub-rule (1) of rule 3, except sub-clauses (i), (iv) and (ix), shall be acted upon as expeditiously as possible and shall be resolved within seventy-two hours of such reporting;  

Provided further that appropriate safeguards may be developed by the intermediary to avoid any misuse by users;” 

The intention of this amendment is to prescribe faster action for certain kinds of wrongdoings and expect them to act within 72 hours. At the same time, for those others (sub-clauses (i), (iv) and (ix)) the original time frame of 15 days for taking action remains. Without a doubt, the goal of this amendment is not to encourage platform users to behave irresponsibly or complacently despite being aware that the platform is frequently used to violate intellectual property rights. It merely provides them with sufficient time and excludes the requirement of compliance within 72 hours.

The intermediary is still obligated to undertake the due diligence described in Rule 3(1)(b)(iv), and if they do not do so and do not take action within fifteen days even after becoming aware of the infringement, the immunity from liability specified in Section 79 will end. The safe harbour will be eliminated because the proviso to Section 81 of the IT Act clearly indicates that IP rights are to be expected to be protected by the intermediary.


The Hon’ble Court was right in granting the injunction in favour of the plaintiff to restrain Flipkart from allowing such infringing products on their platforms.

However, the Hon’ble Court erred by not making a harmonious reading of Rule 3 (2) (a) of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, with Section 79 (3) (b) and the proviso to Section 81 of the IT Act. An isolated reading of the provision and discharging Flipkart of their liability under the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 seems to be an oversight.

The proviso appended to the said section provides that nothing contained in this act shall restrict the exercising of any right by any person under the Copyright Act. This, along with Section 79 (3) of the IT Act, mandates the intermediary not to conspire, abet or aid any infringement and to remove the infringing material on receiving actual knowledge of it.  

The above-referred order will only help the intermediaries and platforms to behave irresponsibly and indifferently even when an intellectual property owner notifies them of infringement on their platforms. It compels aggrieved intellectual property owners to initiate legal action for every infringement, which is expensive to carry out. IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was primarily made to make the platforms more responsible and ethical. Allowing them to act irresponsibly through a limited interpretation of law is unconscionable.


1. CS (COMM) 63/2023

The recent interim order dated March 1, 2023, issued by the Delhi High Court in Samridhi Enterprises vs. Flipkart Internet Private Ltd. (CS (COMM) 63/2023) had sparked a lot of debate and confusion among the public concerning the liability of an intermediary. Though the Hon’ble Court did grant the injunction to protect the plaintiff from the on-going infringement occurring on the platform, the main essence of the IT Act and rules was not taken into consideration while discharging Flipkart of any liability.


Facets of Conceptual Similarity and Semantic Similarity in Trademark Infringement Cases

In this article, we aim to anatomize the facets of conceptual similarity and semantic similarity vide the many judgments that have envisaged their principles and other cognate principles that arise when the question of conceptual similarity is effectuated between rival trademarks.


The idea that rival marks should be assessed as a whole rather than in terms of their individual components is a well-established and widely accepted tenet of trademark law. Confusion, likelihood, similarity, etc. – these terms are allied to the concept of trademarks. An infringement action calls for a comparison of trademarks based on various factors. One crucial factor, and very often not considered part of strategies, is “conceptual similarity”. A test to the latter’s effect, namely the conceptual similarity test, compares competing marks based on the underlying idea or concept that the marks imply or portray. To portray instances, what has been the idea behind the inception of the impugned mark? Whether solely a word mark has been used or a logo/device has also been attached to the word mark? Like many other facets of trademark law that have been established through judicial acumen, the test of conceptual similarity is also one such. 

Similarity vis-à-vis trademarks: Conceptual Similarity and Semantic Similarity

The concept of similarity is extremely crucial to the edifice of trademark law. As per Section 2(h) of the Trademarks Act, 1999, the marks will be deemed to be deceptively similar if the resemblance is likely to deceive or cause confusion. The said section implies that the resemblance should be such that it produces a hazy understanding of the rival mark being that of the victim mark. While certain marks are visually and/or phonetically similar, some marks do not fall in the latter category; however, they are still considered infringement. Here is where conceptual similarity steps in.

The conceptual similarity test compares competing marks based on the underlying idea or concept they indicate or project. The main issue in such a test is whether or not the average man might be misled or confused by two conceptually similar marks because of their similarity. This concept can be better explained with the help of the Delhi High Court judgment in the case of Shree Nath Heritage Liquor Pvt. Ltd. v. Allied Blender & Distillers Pvt. Ltd[1].  The marks in the present case were “OFFICER’S CHOICE” and “COLLECTOR’S CHOICE/OFFICER’S SPECIAL”. While a prima facie view herein would indicate a lack of phonetic similarity, the conceptual similarity test brings in a pivotal and exciting aspect to consider the words’ semantic synonymity. Citing the decision in the case of Corn Products v. Shangrila Foods[2] (wherein the marks “GLUVITA” and “GLUCOVITA” were considered), the semantic similarity was relied upon to decide on the basis for infringement beyond the normal binds of visual or phonetic similarity.

The above-mentioned case is a pioneer in the establishment of principles pertaining to semantic similarity. It has, for instance, referred to various case studies, for instance, the “Distinctive Brand Cues and Memory for Product Consumption Experiences[3]“, wherein one line is of utmost relevance to this article – that the conceptual background behind the brand name is what triggers the recollection of memory in a consumer, and not the brand name in itself. Further, the word “Collector” can be seen as a hyponym of the word “Officer”, in common parlance, both signifying a “Person holding an office of authority”.

Thus, since both trademarks in the current case are used in the same context for one single product, that is whisky, when a consumer is forced to decide on a purchase and is presented with the product of the appellant with the mark “Collector’s Choice”, the word “Collector” will cause him to think of the cue “Person holding an office of authority,” which is related to the word “Officer”. This signal may induce the consumer to mistakenly believe that the appellant’s whisky is the respondent’s or cause a false recollection that may confuse consumers. Thus, this concept of semantic synonymy is highly relevant to trademark jurisprudence and can be subdivided as follows.

Expanding horizons of synonymy

The general understanding of synonymy is the phenomenon of two or more different linguistic forms with the same meaning. To this extent, synonymy can further be categorized. For example, synonyms of different degrees signify words with the same (although extended) meanings, but the degree of effectuation differs. For instance, fury, rage, and anger are synonyms with the same extended meaning of emotional excitement induced by intense displeasure. In contrast, anger is used commonly without a substantial degree of intensity, rage focuses on a loss of self-control, and fury empathizes with a rage so violent that it may approach madness. Similarly, are concepts of synonyms with different emotions, styles, collocations, etc.

What becomes vital in each case, thus, is to establish the degree of synonymy with respect to other factors of similarity, which has been highlighted in the recent case of Metis Learning Solutions Private Limited v. Flipkart India Private Limited and Ors.[4] The court held that conceptual similarity could not be judged in isolation, and the overall phonetic, visual or structural similarity is also required to be seen holistically.

In Make My Trip (India) Private Ltd v. Make My Travel (India) Private Limited[5], the Court had to examine any deceptive similarity between the marks MakeMyTrip and MakeMyTravel. From a prima facie view, one part of the mark “MAKEMY” is identical, visually and phonetically, and hence, warrants no application of conceptual similarity. The test comes into the picture by comparing the rival marks’ latter half – “TRIP” and “TRAVEL”. While these two words are neither identical visually nor phonetically, they are synonyms and convey a similar idea with respect to the services they provide. Thus, the marks could be considered deceptively similar for establishing an infringement action.

Hyponymy & Hypernymy: An extended branch of conceptual similarity

Alongside synonymy are two other important concepts we must look at – hyponyms and hypernyms. As per the Oxford English Dictionary, a Hypernym is a “word with a broad meaning constituting a category into which words with more specific meanings fall; a subordinate”. An example of this effect would be that ‘colour’ is a hypernym of ‘blue’, ‘dog’ is a hypernym of the breed ‘dachshund’, etc. On the contrary, a Hyponym is a “word of more specific meaning than a general or super-ordinate term applicable to it”; for example, ‘Spoon’ is a hyponym for ‘cutlery’, etc. Having a basic conceptual understanding of Hypernyms and Hyponyms, we now look at their relevance in trademark infringement actions.

What hyponyms and hypernyms do is create a sense of inclusion. Sharing a hyponym in the form of a conceptual background would make the consumer think of the same thing, making it harder for him to remember the name of his favoured brand. Similarly, when two or more brand names are similar, for example, men’s perfume brands being called rugged and macho, while the meaning of each of these terms may vary according to the situation, in the context of men’s perfumes, they all refer to masculinity, and hence, are very likely to confuse the relevant category of consumers.


Time and again, courts have taken the lead and strived to bring into the picture the diverse ways trademark infringement can occur. Nevertheless, a restricted and cautious approach must be followed in applying the concepts of conceptual similarity (including hypernyms and hyponyms), semantic similarity and synonymy. Best explained using an example, let us consider the men’s perfume example. Would trademark protection of synonyms cover all equivalent words, preventing the naming of any masculine fragrances after any phrase synonymous with “Tough”? Such situations may lead to malpractices such as monopoly, squatting, etc. Thus, to protect words that share a sense relation, a restrictive application must be made, preserving only those sense relations of the term where the context in which they are applied to the brand name is the same, causing identical concepts to be conveyed to consumers.


[1] Shree Nath Heritage Liquor Pvt. Ltd. v. Allied Blender & Distillers Pvt. Ltd, FAO (OS) 368 and 493/2014.

[2] Corn Products Refining Co. v. Shangrila Food Products Ltd., AIR 1960 SC 142.

[3] International Journal of Research in Marketing [22 (2005) 27-44].

[4] Metis Learning Solutions Private Limited v. Flipkart India Private Limited and Ors., CS (COMM) 393/2022 and Crl. M. A. 12694/2022.

[5] Make My Trip (India) Private Ltd v. Make My Travel (India) Private Limited, 2019 (80) PTC 491 (Del).

Image Credits:

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

In Make My Trip (India) Private Ltd v. Make My Travel (India) Private Limited[5], the Court had to examine any deceptive similarity between the marks MakeMyTrip and MakeMyTravel. From a prima facie view, one part of the mark “MAKEMY” is identical, visually and phonetically, and hence, warrants no application of conceptual similarity. The test comes into the picture by comparing the rival marks’ latter half – “TRIP” and “TRAVEL”. While these two words are neither identical visually nor phonetically, they are synonyms and convey a similar idea with respect to the services they provide. Thus, the marks could be considered deceptively similar for establishing an infringement action.


Online Gaming: Challenges in Protection of Intellectual Property

IP protection is a crucial aspect of the gaming industry as it helps game developers in protecting their creations and ensures that they receive appropriate recognition and adequate compensation for their work. However, protecting IP rights can prove difficult in the digital world, especially in countries where IP laws are weak or nonexistent.


The gaming industry in India has been growing and evolving rapidly over the past few years. According to estimates, the Indian gaming industry was valued at approximately US$1.1 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach US$2.1 billion by the end of this year. The massive growth in this domain could be attributed to the increase in smartphone use, growing middle-class population, easy access to high-speed internet connections, rise in disposable income, expansion of e-commerce, and extensive use of online modes of payments. These factors enable companies and investors to tap into opportunities offered by the industry.

The mobile gaming segment, which accounts for more than 70% of the total market value, is the largest and fastest-growing segment of the country’s gaming industry. Moreover, the esports market is proliferating, driven by investments and recognition of esports as a competitive sport.

Challenges Faced by Game Developers

The exponential progress in the field of gaming has brought about numerous challenges such as complications involved in the protection of Intellectual Property (IP), game cloning issues, etc. With the rise of digital distribution, it has become easier for rogue companies to copy popular games and market them as their own, thereby infringing on the original game’s IP and reputation.

One of the biggest challenges in protecting IP in online gaming is the issue of game cloning. Game cloning occurs when one company creates a copy of another company’s game and markets it as its own. This not only infringes on the original game’s IP, but it can also harm the reputation of the original game and the company behind it. Game cloning is particularly prevalent in the mobile gaming industry, where the low barriers to entry and the ease of access to development tools make it simple for companies to create a copy of a popular game. Game cloning may confuse consumers or users, resulting in a loss of revenue for the original game’s developers. Such cloning also harms the reputation of the original game. In some cases, game cloning can also lead to negative reviews and decreased ratings for the original game, further impacting its business performance and success.

Another challenge in protecting IP in online gaming is the issue of piracy. With digital games, it is easy for users to obtain and share illegal copies of the game, which can result in lost revenue for the game’s creators. This is particularly problematic for smaller game developers, who may not have the resources to invest in anti-piracy measures. While some companies have attempted to use digital rights management (DRM) technology to prevent piracy, this can also make the game less accessible for legitimate users and can result in technical issues.

Protection of Intellectual Property

To combat the challenges of protecting IP in online gaming, game developers can take several steps. Firstly, they can register their IP, including trademarks and copyrights, to have a more robust legal standing in the event of an infringement. Additionally, game developers can invest in anti-piracy measures, such as DRM technology, to prevent the illegal distribution of their games.

Another way to protect IP in online gaming is by enlisting the help of the gaming community and collaborating with its members. Game developers can work with players to report game cloning and piracy instances, allowing them to take swift action to protect their IP. Additionally, game developers can engage with players to gather feedback and improve their games, creating a loyal and engaged community invested in the game’s success.


Though the challenges of protecting IP in online gaming are complex and multi-faceted, game developers can mitigate these challenges and ensure the success of their games through IP registration, anti-piracy measures, collaborating with members of the gaming community, etc. The gaming industry is constantly evolving, and the challenges of protecting IP in online gaming will continue to change. In this rapidly changing marketplace, game developers must be proactive in protecting their IP to remain competitive and receive the recognition and compensation they deserve.

Image Credits:

Photo by Ron Lach :

Though the challenges of protecting IP in online gaming are complex and multi-faceted, game developers can mitigate these challenges and ensure the success of their games through IP registration, anti-piracy measures, collaborating with members of the gaming community, etc. The gaming industry is constantly evolving, and the challenges of protecting IP in online gaming will continue to change. In this rapidly changing marketplace, game developers must be proactive in protecting their IP to remain competitive and receive the recognition and compensation they deserve.


Rooh Afza has Immense Goodwill: Delhi HC Rules in Trademark Infringement Case

The Delhi High Court gave its verdict in the trademark infringement battle between Hamdard National Foundation (India) and Sadar Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., and prohibited the latter company from using the mark “DIL AFZA” thereby protecting the trademark “ROOH AFZA”.

In a suit for trademark infringement by Hamdard National Foundation (India) against Sadar Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., the Delhi High Court held that the trademark “ROOH AFZA” possesses immense goodwill and that competitors must ensure that their marks are not similar to it. A two-judge bench, in its judgment[1] held that since the mark “ROOH AFZA” has been used for over a century, it can be considered a strong mark and, thus, restrained the Respondent from using the mark “DIL AFZA” until the suit is disposed of.

Hamdard National Foundation has filed the present appeal against the order[2] passed by a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court on 6th January 2022, rejecting an application for an interim injunction against Sadar Laboratories Pvt. Ltd. Both the marks are used with respect to sweet beverage concentrate. The Appellants claimed that the Respondents were infringing their marks “HAMDARD” and “ROOH AFZA”, and by selling these products under the mark “DIL AFZA,” they were passing off their products as those of the Appellants.

The Single Judge Bench held that the Appellants have to show that “AFZA” has a secondary meaning to claim exclusivity of their product. Therefore, the Court dismissed the application on the ground that they can claim exclusivity only for the mark “ROOH AFZA” as a whole and not just for “AFZA.”

Aggrieved by the order, the present appeal was filed by Hamdard National Foundation seeking a permanent injunction refraining the respondents from using the mark “SHARBAT DIL AFZA” or “DIL AFZA” on the ground that it is deceptively similar to the mark “ROOH AFZA.” The appellants further claimed that the use of this mark would deceive consumers and amount to passing off and also submitted that this would amount to dilution of the Appellant’s mark.

It was claimed that the marks “HAMDARD” and “ROOH AFZA” have been used for a wide range of products and constitute a well-known mark under Section 2(zg) of the Trademarks Act, 1999 owing to their widespread reputation and has therefore acquired goodwill with respect to the class of products pertaining to sweet beverage concentrates.

The Respondent submitted that by virtue of Section 29 of the Trademarks Act 1999, the allegations of infringement are not maintainable. It was submitted that the Appellants do not have an exclusive right over the word “AFZA” and that their mark has been coined by joining the terms “DIL” and “AFZA” and are not phonetically or visually similar. The Respondent submitted that there was no possibility of confusion between the two marks and every other aspect, such as the design and color scheme of “DIL AFZA” is also materially different from the Appellant’s mark. Therefore, there was no possibility of confusion between the two marks.

The Delhi High Court, after considering the arguments from both sides, stated that “AFZA” is an integral part of both “ROOH AFZA” and “DIL AFZA.” The word is neither descriptive nor normally associated with the product; hence, it is material in determining whether there is an infringement of the trademark. The Court further stated that the use of the word “AFZA” lends a certain degree of similarity, and the trade dress of both products is also similar, making the Respondent’s mark deceptively similar to that of the Appellants.

The Court reiterated that “ROOH AFZA” has been used for over a century and is entitled to protection. The mark is a source identifier with a high degree of goodwill and is susceptible to unfair competitive practices. The Court stated that prima facie, the Respondent’s mark lacks a sufficient degree of dissimilarity and hence set aside the order passed by the Delhi High court and passed an ad interim order restraining the Respondent from manufacturing and selling any product under the mark “DIL AFZA” belonging to Class 32 until the present suit is disposed of.


[1] Hamdard National Foundation (India) & Anr vs Sadar Laboratories Pvt. Ltd. [Case No. FAO(OS) (COMM) 67/2022]

[2] Hamdard National Foundation (India) & Anr vs Sadar Laboratories Pvt. Limited [Case No. CS (COMM) 551/2020]

Image Credits:

Photo by Jessica Lewis:

The Delhi High Court, after considering the arguments from both sides, stated that “AFZA” is an integral part of both “ROOH AFZA” and “DIL AFZA.” The word is neither descriptive nor normally associated with the product; hence, it is material in determining whether there is an infringement of the trademark. 


Architectural Design Copyright: Analyzing Strategic Trolling in Light of the Design Basics Judgement

Like any other form of creative works of expression, copyright protection was extended to work of architectural design keeping in mind the creative labour that goes into the production of such works and to protect the legitimate interest of such bona fide authors. However, there have been instances where copyright owners have made their revenue model to indulge in the scheme of copyright trolling.


Copyright trolling is a scenario where creators of copyrighted work enforce their work with the hopes of profiting from favorable infringement enforcement lawsuits.

This article analyses one such US case which was an appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal i.e., Design Basics, LLC v. Signature Construction[1] that addressed the question of copyright protection over architectural designs and its alleged infringement by a subsequently developed floor plan. The article also touches upon the Indian intellectual property laws that deal with copyright protection of architectural designs.

Background of the Design Basics Case

The Appellant had received copyright registration over series of its floor plans and sued Defendant for alleged infringement of ten of its floor plans. In response, the Defendants moved for summary judgment, wherein the lower court, while dismissing the Appellant’s claim of infringement ruled that the Appellant’s copyright protection in its floor plan was ‘thin’ and only a ‘strikingly similar’ plan could give rise to an infringement claim. The Appellant’s appeal against the Summary Judgement met with the same fate as the seventh circuit court, re-affirmed the position taken by the lower court for reasons explained herein in greater detail. While doing so, the court came down heavily on the Appellant i.e., Design Basics, LLC., a home design company, for its floor plan-based copyright trolling scheme that it had utilized to file over a hundred copyright cases, including the present one, in federal courts that had resulted in thousands of victims paying license/settlement fees.

Test of Similarity: Independent Creation or Unlawful Copying   

In the present case, the copyright protection was hailed as a thin one, as the designs mostly consisted of unprotectable and basic elements – a few bedrooms, a large common living room, kitchen, etc. The Court reiterated the fact that “copying” constitutes two separate scenarios – Whether the defendant has, rather than creating it independently, imitated it in toto and whether such copying amounts to wrongful copying or unlawful appropriation. For instance, in the present case, much of the Appellant’s content related to functional considerations and existing design conventions for affordable, suburban, single-family homes. In such a case, to give rise to a potential copyright infringement claim, only a “strikingly similar” subsequent work would suffice.

Determining the Piracy: A Circumstantial Scenario

The Seventh Circuit explained that in absence of evidence of direct copying, the circumstantial evidence should be taken into consideration. To bring a case under this limb, one had to identify whether there was access to the plaintiff’s work by the creators of the subsequent work and if so, then, whether there exists a substantial similarity between the two works. The substantial similarity should not only be limited to the protective elements of the plaintiff’s work but also, any other similarity.

The court in this case used the term “probative similarity” when referring to actual copying and “substantial similarity” when referring to unlawful appropriation. In a case of thin copyright protection, a case of unlawful appropriation requires more than a substantial similarity. Only if a subsequent plan is virtually identical to the original work, it will cause an infringement.

The utility aspect: The Brandir analogy

For instance, if a particular type of architectural detailing is a significant feature of an organization, so much so that it creates an imprint on the minds of the target consumers that such a style is attributable to the Appellant, is that design/style copyrightable? To answer this question the case of Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co[2], must be taken into consideration, where the court stated that “if design elements reflect a merger of aesthetic and functional considerations, the artistic aspects of a work cannot be said to be conceptually separable from the utilitarian elements. Conversely, where design elements can be identified as reflecting the designer’s artistic judgment exercised independently of functional influences, conceptual separability exists.

The rule of law, as evidenced from the above precedent states that the copyrightability of work ultimately depends upon the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression and is not restricted by functional considerations. Hence, while considering designs, which have a particular utility in the minds of the customers, the artistic part should be considered separately from the utilitarian part, as, the Copyright Act clearly states that the legal test lies in how the final article is perceived and not how it has evolved at the various stages along the way. Any similarity in the end-product when taken as a whole should be considered.

The Ideal Test(s) for Determination of Ingringement: Scènes à Faire and Merger Doctrine

The determination of piracy and subsequently the legitimacy of a copyright claim has seen a sharp change over a period. There has been a change in the stance of the courts from the Sweat of the Brow system to the Originality Test. Where the former absolved a defendant from a copyright infringement claim based on the evaluation of substantial labour in the development of the subsequent work, without taking into consideration the amount of overlap or the quality of such work, the latter absolved the author of a subsequent work from a potential copyright infringement claim if his work (the subsequent work) enshrines an adequate amount of creativity and diligence.

An extension of the Originality doctrine is seen in a Scene A Faire scenario, which states that when certain similarities are non-avoidable, what needs to be determined is if the depiction pertains to certain things which are extremely common to a particular situation, for e.g., the depiction of police life in the South Bronx will definitely include “drinks, prostitutes, vermin and derelict cars.”[3] Hence, such depictions do not come under the realm of copyright protection.[4]

The court adopted the same analogy in the present scenario, stating that the rooms in the Appellant’s floor plans were rudimentary, commonplace, and standard, largely directed by functionality. For example, the placement of the bedroom, hall, and kitchen did not show an extraneous unique expression of an idea. Hence, they constituted of a scene a faire scenario, which could not be protected.

Expressions and not ideas are protectable. The doctrine of merger prevents the protection of underlying ideas. However, if certain ideas can only be expressed in multiple ways, copyrighting each expression would end up in copyrighting the idea itself, which would run counter to the very basis of copyright protection. Similarly, where the Appellant is the owner of 2500+ floor plans, is it possible for any other Appellant to design a suburban single-family home that is not identical to at least one of these plans?

The court answered in negative and held that if the copyright infringement claim of the Appellant was allowed to succeed, then it would own nearly the entire field of suburban, single-family type homes, which would be a result of anti-competitive practice. Hence, the present plea was not allowed.

A Classic Case of Copyright Trolling

The court called this instance a classic case of a copyright troll. This was because Design Basics, as a matter of practice, had registered copyrights in over thousands of floor plans for single-family tract type suburban homes, which they used for attacking several smaller businesses, using their employees to spawn through the internet in search of targets and slapping on them strategic infringement suits in which the merits were always questionable. This fueled their agenda in securing “prompt settlements with defendants who would prefer to pay modest or nuisance settlements rather than be tied up in expensive litigation.”

The Indian Position on Protection of Architectural Design

Even though courts in India have not taken a similar stand on copyright protection over architectural work yet, a similarly high threshold of originality for protection and enforcement of such works stems from the Copyright Act, 1957 (“the Act”) as well as the Designs Act, 2000. Section 2(b) of the Act defines ‘work of architecture’ as: “any building or structure having an artistic character or design, or any model for such building or structure.”, and Section 2(c)(ii) includes work of architecture under the ambit of artistic work.

Additionally, Section 59 of the Act, restricts remedies in case of “works of architecture” which states that where construction of a building or other structure which infringes or which, if completed would infringe the copyright in some other work has been commenced, the owner of the copyright shall not be entitled to obtain an injunction to restrain the construction of such building or structure or order its demolition. The owner of the copyrighted building cannot claim specific relief and the only remedy available to the copyright owner will be damages and criminal prosecution.

The law corresponding to this is Section 2(d) of the Designs Act, 2000 which allows for designs of buildings to be registered. This provision may prove to be more useful as it allows for mass production of the designs registered under the Designs Act. As for Copyright protection, if a design has been registered under the Copyright Act, as well as the Designs Act, then the copyright ceases to exist if the design is commercially reproduced or reproduced more than fifty times.

Thus, the Copyright Act purports to provide protection to very special architectural works which have an artistic element to them and are not mass-produced to protect the artistic integrity of the work. Hence, commercial rights of architectural work are better protected under the Designs Act which allows for the reproduction of the design multiple times.

Analysis and Conclusion

The Appellate court in the present case concluded that apart from the marking up of the Design Basics floor plan by Signature, there was no evidence of actual copying. Even under the test for circumstantial proof of actual copying, there existed many noteworthy differences between the two works, for instance, the room dimensions, ceiling styles, number of rooms, and exterior dimensions were all different enough to preclude an inference of actual copying as a matter of law. Even though the two plans were similar, they differed in many aspects. Hence, the copyright infringement claim could not subsist.

The United States’ Modicum of Creativity approach is a modern proliferation of the originality test, which delves into the thought process and the judgment involved behind the formulation of subsequent work.[5] However, using this approach in isolation is not enough. Whether the subsequent work is the result of a thought process and adequate judgment should be determined after passing it through the ‘Nichols Abstraction’ test. The Seventh Circuit decision was largely based on the Nichols Abstraction test[6] which narrows down to the product that remains after filtering out all the dissimilarities. The residual product, in this case, that remained after filtering out all the dissimilarities between the two was the main idea behind the works and ideas are not protectable and hence a case of infringement could not be made out.

Copyright trolling is more common in countries that provide escalated damages for infringement and there it needs to be addressed in a stricter manner. In 2015 alone, trolls consumed a whopping 58% of the US federal copyright docket. Clearly, the judiciary plays a very important role in sorting out a troll from a genuine copyright claim. Moreover, the litigation process needs to be cost-effective, which may enable defendants to dispute the claims of a copyright troll more easily. Hence, proper care and caution must be taken while meandering through the trolls.


[1] Case No. 19-2716 (7th Cir. Apr. 23, 2021)

[2] 200 (2d Cir. N.Y. Dec. 2, 1987)

[3] David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright Vol III, (1963).


[5] Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

[6] Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930)



Image Credits: Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Copyright trolling Is more common in countries that provide escalated damages for infringement and there it needs to be addressed in a stricter manner. In 2015 alone, trolls consumed a whopping 58% of the US federal copyright docket. Clearly, the judiciary plays a very important role in sorting out a troll from a genuine copyright claim.


PhonePe Vs. BharatPe Case: No Exclusivity Over a Part of a Mark, Not Even by Misspelling It

Registration of the (whole) mark does not confer an exclusive right over a part of a registered mark. Similarly, no exclusivity can be claimed over a descriptive mark or a descriptive part of the mark, not even by misspelling it. This was the ruling of the Delhi High Court in a recent Trademark Infringement & Passing Off matter between PhonePe Pvt. Ltd. (Plaintiff) & Ezy Services & Anr. (Defendants). Hon’ble Justice C. Hari Shankar affirmed some of the fundamental principles of the Trademark Law, which have been asserted by various Courts from time to time.
PhonePe’s Perception:

PhonePe in its plea before the Delhi High Court stated that: a consumer of average intelligence and imperfect recollection, on seeing the defendants’ mark BharatPe would immediately associate it with PhonePe.

Well, how often is our intelligence questioned and challenged, even without our knowledge? Considering the deep inroads that technology has made into our lives now, I reckon all of us are reasonably aware of the prominent digital wallets in the market. Knowing that, it is contestable how many of us would have wondered about any association between these two marks purely based on the similarity in their suffix “Pe”.


The plaintiff had filed a suit before the Delhi High Court seeking a permanent injunction and other remedies against the defendants’ use of ‘Pe’ or any deceptive mark identical and/or similar to the plaintiff’s trademark ‘PhonePe’. The plaintiff alleged that the use of the word “BharatPe” itself, infringed the plaintiff’s registered trademark and amounted to passing off.

The plaintiff in its suit claimed that “Pe” is an essential, dominant, and distinguishing feature of the plaintiff’s registered trademarks. Plaintiff further claimed that “Pe” is an invented word, not to be found in the English dictionary and when combined with “Phone”, which is an ordinary dictionary word with a well-known meaning, “Pe” becomes the dominant and essential feature of the plaintiff’s trademark “PhonePe”.

Court’s Findings and Rulings:

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court’s decision in this matter seems to be premised based on following three principles, which have already been established earlier in multiple Judgments by various Courts:

a) The Anti-Dissection Rule:
The Hon’ble High Court observed that the registered mark ought not to be dissected for the purpose of comparison with the conflicting mark. However, the Court acknowledged the exception of “dominant mark” test, under which, if any part of the plaintiff’s mark was found to be dominant, the Court was required to examine whether such dominant part of the plaintiff’s mark was infringed by the defendant’s mark.

The plaintiff contended that “PhonePe” was a combination of the words “Phone” and “Pe”, where “Phone” was a common dictionary word and the suffix “Pe” was not a dictionary word, which made it the dominant feature of the plaintiff’s trademark. Similarly, in the defendant’s trademark, the word “Bharat” was publici juris and “Pe” formed the dominant element of the mark “BharatPe”. However, the Court was not convinced on the argument and did not find “Pe” to be the dominant part, therefore, the marks were not allowed to be dissected for the comparison.

The Court ruled that while applying the above principles to the facts in hand, the following positions emerged i.e. (i) “PhonePe” and “BharatPe” were both composite marks. (ii) the marks could not be dissected into “Phone” and “Pe” in the case of the plaintiff and “Bharat” and “Pe” in the case of the defendants; and (iii) the plaintiff could not claim exclusivity over the word “Pe”, as it was merely a misspelling of the word “Pay”, hence no infringement could be claimed on the basis of part of a registered trademark.

b) Separate Registration of a Part of a Composite Mark:
The Hon’ble Court further observed that since the plaintiff did not have any registration over the suffix “Pe”, therefore, it could not claim any exclusivity on the same. As a result, the question of infringement did not arise because of the alleged similarity between the non-essential, unregistered part of the composite mark.

In the cases of South India Beverages1 and P.K. Overseas Pvt. Ltd.2, the Delhi High Court explained the relation between the anti-dissection principle and the “dominant/essential feature” principle. The division bench relied on a passage from McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition, earlier cited in the case of Stiefel Laboratories3, which stated that “The rationale for the rule is that the commercial impression of a composite trademark on an ordinary prospective buyer is created by the mark as a whole, not by its component parts. However, it is not a violation of the anti-dissection rule to view the component parts of conflicting composite marks as a preliminary step on the way to an ultimate determination of probable customer reaction to the conflicting composites as a whole”.

c) Non-exclusivity of Descriptive or Generic Marks or Parts of Marks:
The Hon’ble Court observed that a party cannot claim exclusivity over a descriptive or generic mark or a part of the mark that is considered descriptive. The Court went on to observe that the plaintiff could not claim that the mark was non-descriptive merely by misspelling the descriptive word. However, the Court admitted an exception to this principle in situations where the descriptive or generic mark had acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning.

The Court further observed that had the plaintiff been able to establish that the word “Pe” had acquired distinctiveness and secondary meaning, it might have been able to make out a case of infringement. However, in this case, the plaintiff’s use of the mark “PhonePe” was only since 2016 and even the defendants claimed to have extensive use of their mark “BharatPe”. Therefore, the plaintiff had not been able to make out a prima facie case.

In the case of Marico Limited4, the Court dived deep into the concept of acquired secondary meaning of a descriptive mark and held that while deciding whether a descriptive mark is registrable or not the “Courts should ordinarily lean against holding distinctiveness of a descriptive trademark unless the user of such trademark is over such a long period of time of many-many years that even a descriptive word mark is unmistakably and only relatable to one source i.e. the same has acquired a secondary meaning”.
1 South India Beverages v. General Mills Marketing, AIR 1965 SC 980
2 P.K. Overseas Pvt. Ltd. v. Bhagwati Lecto Vegetarians Exports Pvt. Ltd., 2016 SCC OnLine Del 5420
3 Stiefel Laborataries v. Ajanta Pharma Ltd, 211 (2014) DLT 296
4 Marico Limited v. Agro Tech Foods Limited, 2010 (44) PTC 736 (Del.) (DB)
The Marico case also discussed the nature and character of a misspelt word when used as a trademark and held that “if partly tweaked descriptive words and expressions of English language are claimed to be coined words, the same would result in a grave and absurd situation because a non-tweaked word being a completely descriptive word will in fact be deceptively similar to the tweaked descriptive English language word or expression of which registration is obtained”.


The Hon’ble Court ruled that there was no case for grant of interim injunction against the defendants. The Court observed that except the common word “Pe” (suffix) it cannot be established that the marks “PhonePe” and “BharatPe” are confusingly or deceptively similar. Barring the suffix “Pe” these are two different words altogether with no commonality whatsoever.

The important legal positions that emerge from this decision are:
(i) In accordance with the “anti-dissection” rule, it was held that the composite marks were to be considered in their entirety rather than truncating or dissecting them into individual components/elements.
(ii) The registration of a composite mark cannot confer any exclusive rights over any part of such registered mark unless otherwise, such part is the dominant part of the registered mark.
(iii) No exclusivity can be claimed, over a descriptive mark, or a descriptive part of a mark, not even by misspelling it, unless otherwise the descriptive mark or descriptive part has attained distinctiveness, or it has acquired a secondary meaning.

This case has surely reaffirmed some of the basic principles of trademark laws that prohibit adaptation and exclusive claim over descriptive and generic marks or part of the mark.
Read about the important legal positions that emerge from the PhonePe V. BharatPe decision in this article.


Liabilities of Intermediaries In Trademark Infringement Cases In India

The boon and bane of market vis-à-vis consumers has further intensified with the shift of the current generation to e-commerce. The boon has been the ease, economy, and the time efficiency that online trade offers while the bane has been the easy trafficking of counterfeits and threat to customer data. Although efforts are being made by the government to address the issues from a consumer/buyer point of view, not much has been done from a business/seller point of view. One worrying concern for businesses is the constant infringement of their trademarks which is suffering in the lack of necessary legislation or a decisive judicial pronouncement. Most businesses believe that intermediaries must be liable for allowing infringers sell goods on their platform without adequate due diligence, however, liability has not been conclusively attributed in this regard yet.

One prominent case that addressed the liability of online marketplaces in trademark infringement was Christian Louboutin SAS vs Nakul Bajaj & Others[i] decided on 2nd November 2018 by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court. But before we delve into the particular case or understand the liability of intermediaries, let us first understand who falls within the ambit of intermediaries and when is an intermediary exempted from liability.


Definition of Intermediaries


The term “intermediaries” is defined under section 2(w) of Information Technology Act, 2000 which says

 “Intermediary” – with respect to any particular electronic records, means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes.


Exemption from the liability/ Safe Harbour Provision


Section 79 of the Information Technology Act provides certain immunities to the intermediaries. That the intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by him. Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is extracted below:

  • Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force but subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3), an intermediary shall not be liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him.


  • The provisions of sub-section (1) shall apply if– (a) the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted; or (b) the intermediary does not– (i) initiate the transmission, (ii) select the receiver of the transmission, and (iii) select or modify the information contained in the transmission; (c) the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act and also observes such other guidelines as the Central Government may prescribe in this behalf.


  • The provisions of sub-section (1) shall not apply if– (a) the intermediary has conspired or abetted or aided or induced, whether by threats or promise or otherwise in the commission of the unlawful act; (b) upon receiving actual knowledge, or on being notified by the appropriate Government or its agency that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material on that resource without vitiating the evidence in any manner.

Section 79 of the Act elaborates on the exemption from liabilities of intermediaries and Section 79(2)(c) mentions that intermediaries must observe due diligence while discharging their duties and observe such other guidelines as prescribed by the Central Government. Accordingly, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 were notified on 11th April 2011.

Though the Indian Courts have reviewed Section 79 of IT Act, 2000 (Safe Harbour Provisions) on various facts and situation including in the cases of protecting online free speech (Shreya Singhal V. Union of India[ii]), uploading content and copyright violations (My Space Inc Vs. Super Cassettes Industries Limited[iii]) and design infringement (Kent Ro Systems Limited & Anr Vs. Amit Kotak and Ors[iv])etc, the position that is considered by Indian courts on violation of trademarks rights by e-commerce platforms and the extent of protection awarded to them was unclear till recent past.  

The landmark judgment passed by the Hon’ble Delhi Court in Christian Louboutin SAS vs Nakul Bajaj & Others tried to establish the liability of intermediaries on trademark infringement cases and the same is discussed below:


Christian Louboutin SAS vs Nakul Bajaj & Others


The Plaintiffs (Christian Louboutin), manufacturer of luxury shoes well known for their red soles filed a trademark infringement suit against an e-commerce website (Defendants). The Plaintiffs had also obtained trademark registration for the word mark, device mark CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN and also for their red sole mark in India. The Plaintiffs claimed that their products were sold only through an authorized network of exclusive distributors.

The Defendants were selling various luxury products on their website including the Plaintiff’s products by claiming that they were 100% authentic. The Plaintiffs alleged that apart from selling and offering counterfeit products on the Defendants website, the image of the founder of the Plaintiff and the names Christian and Louboutin were used as meta tags. Further, the Defendants’ website gave an impression that it was in some manner sponsored, affiliated and approved for sale of variety of luxury products bearing the mark Christian Louboutin and this resulted in infringement of trademark rights and violation of personality rights of Mr. Christian Louboutin.

On perusal of the pleadings the Hon’ble Court observed that no factual issues arose in the determination of the case as the Defendants had not disputed the proprietary rights of the Plaintiff over their brand Christian Louboutin. The only defence put forth by the Defendants was the safe harbour provision under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 that they were mere intermediary who enabled booking of products from any of the 287 boutiques/sellers across the globe using their online platform.  The Defendants contended that the products sold through their website was genuine, however, they were not providing after sales warranty or services.

The only aspect to be decided was whether the Defendants’ use of the Plaintiffs’ mark, logo was justified under Section 79 of the Information Act, 2000 or not.

The Hon’ble court perused the Defendants’ website and observed that customers were required to pay a membership fee in order to shop from the Defendants’ website and the said website also provided an authenticity guarantee to return twice the money if the products turned out to be fake or not of expected quality. Furthermore, in the terms and conditions, the Defendants claimed that they facilitated the purchase of original products and the prices of the products were maintained and changed at the discretion of the Defendants. Quality checks of the products were carried out by a third-party team who examined the precise details of the products that were shipped to the customers. The invoices generated were those of the website (defendant) company.  

In order to determine whether an online marketplace or e-commerce website is an intermediary, the Hon’ble Court elaborately examined the nature of services (provided a detailed list of 26 possible services that could be performed by intermediary) that would fall within the ambit of service contemplated in the definition of intermediary. Accordingly, entities that performed tasks such as identification of the seller, providing transport for seller, employing delivery personnel for delivering the product, accepting cash for sale etc and the measures taken by the online platforms  to ensure that unlawful acts were not committed by the sellers were taken into consideration for determining the role of the online marketplace. Considering the services played by the Defendant in the case, the Hon’ble Court was convinced that the Defendant exercised complete control over their sale of products and they were much more than just an intermediary.

The Hon’ble Court further noted that the e-commerce website and online marketplaces were required to operate with caution if they wished to enjoy the immunity provided to the intermediaries under Section 79 of the IT Act. When an e-commerce website is involved in or conducts its business in such a manner which would see presence of large number of elements (services and measures taken by sellers referred above), it could cross the line from being an intermediary to active participant. In such cases, online marketplace could be liable for infringement in view of its active participation.  The conduct of intermediaries in failing to observe due diligence with respect to IPR could amount to conspiring or abetting, aiding or inducing unlawful conduct and may lose the exemption to which intermediaries are entitled. When an e-commerce company claims exemption under Section 79 of IT Act, it ought to ensure that it does not have active participation in the selling process. The presence of any elements which indicates active participation could deprive intermediaries of the exception.

Finally, the Hon’ble Court ascertained whether there was any falsification of Plaintiff’s trademark under Section 2(2)(c), 101 and 102 of the Trademarks Act, 1999.  These provisions were being looked at to ascertain what constituted conspiring, abetting, aiding, or inducing, the commission of an unlawful act, in the context of trademarks rights. The Hon’ble Court concluded that the use of Plaintiffs’ mark in respect of genuine goods would not be infringement and in respect of counterfeit goods, it could constitute infringement. Thus, any online marketplace or e-commerce website which allows storing of counterfeit goods would be falsifying the mark.

In view of the above, the Hon’ble Court noted that the Defendant was not entitled to protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Further, the use of the Plaintiffs’ mark, the name and photograph of the founder without permission and the sale of products without ensuring genuineness constituted violation of the Plaintiffs rights. Pertaining to the contention of meta tagging, the Court held that Defendants’ use of the meta tagging would constitute infringement as upheld by the Delhi Court in another case (Kapil Wadhawa v. Samsung Electronics[v]).

In the above circumstance, the suit was decreed directing the Defendant to disclose the details of all its sellers, their addressee, contact details on the website, and prior to uploading a product bearing Plaintiffs’ mark, Defendant was required to obtain concurrence before offering for sale on its platform.

It is apparent that the legislative intent is to protect genuine intermediaries and it cannot be extended to those persons who are not intermediaries and are an active participants in the unlawful act.


Post Louboutin Case


The test laid down in Christian Louboutin case containing the detailed list of 26 possible tasks/services that could be performed by intermediaries were applied to various other cases such as Loreal v. Brandworld and Another[vi] and in Skull Candy Inc v. Shri Shyam Telecom and Others[vii] to ascertain the liability of intermediaries in online marketplace or e-commerce website.  

In this regard, it is pertinent to note the case of Amway India Enterprises Private Limited v. 1Mg Technologies Private Limited and Another[viii] where a single bench of the Delhi High Court passed an order restraining numerous e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, flipkart, snapdeal etc from the sale of direct selling products without the consent of direct selling entities. This decision of the single bench was set aside by the Division bench of Delhi High Court on 31st January 2020 and with this again the position of law pertaining to the intermediary liabilities in trademark infringement cases remains unclear. However, it is observed from various intellectual property rights cases that courts have placed higher responsibility to take down the contents that infringes the IP rights and is titling towards making these e-commerce platforms more responsible for their content.

Now that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines Amendment) Rules, 2018 framed to make social media platforms accountable for their contents is on the verge of being notified, it is apparent that internet intermediaries won’t be able to  take shelter under the safe harbour protection of the IT Act, 2000 effortlessly.  The new rules intend to tighten the noose by filtering out information that threaten public health or safety. The rules make it mandatory for intermediaries to provide information or assistance to government agencies within 72 hours of formal communication,  enable tracing out of originator of information on its platform by deploying technology based automated tools for proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to unlawful information and by removing access to unlawful content within 24 hours upon receiving a court order or being notified. It also requires intermediaries to incorporate a company if they have more than 5 lakh users in India and to have a permanent registered office in India as well as appoint a nodal person for contact with law enforcement.  

From an IP perspective, the roles and responsibilities of intermediaries are likely to become more crucial in IPR infringement cases. The safe harbour protection must be granted to intermediaries only if they play the role of a facilitator.  Since e-commerce has flourished like a green bay tree in the massive Indian market, the government is mooting the idea of having a separate regulatory body and a separate e-commerce law that provides for periodic audit, storage of data,  consumer protection,  export promotion and other provisions for promotion of e-commerce. The new law supposedly proposes to impose joint liability for counterfeit products on e-commerce entity as well as sellers. If approved, this would substantially address the trademark concerns and ensure fair competition.




[i] CS (COMM) 344/2018, I.As. 19124/2014, 20912/2014, 23749/2014 & 9106/2015

[ii] AIR 2015 SC 1523

[iii] 236 (2017) DLT 478

[iv] 2017 (69) PTC 551 (DEL)

[v] FAO(OS) 93/2012

[vi] CS(COMM) 980/2016 & I.A. 24186/2014

[vii] CS(COMM) 979/2016 & I.A. 24578/2014

[viii] CS (OS) 410/2018


Image Credits: Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

From an IP perspective, the roles and responsibilities of intermediaries are likely to become more crucial in IPR infringement cases. The safe harbour protection must be granted to intermediaries only if they play the role of a facilitator.  Since e-commerce has flourished like a green bay tree in the massive Indian market, the government is mooting the idea of having a separate regulatory body and a separate e-commerce law that provides for periodic audit, storage of data,  consumer protection,  export promotion, and other provisions for promotion of e-commerce.