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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2020 In Rewind: Trademarks In India

The entrepreneurship space has seen major evolution with conducive policies and enabling technological environment in the past few years. Specifically, the digital landscape has levelled up in traffic and capabilities owing to the pandemic last year and everything moving online. With that, the intellectual property and technology laws are grappling to catch up to the developing situation and adequately protect the rights of the stakeholders in the sector. Until that happens effectively, the courts are taking a pro-active step to align the developments with the legal intentions and business requirements. With this in view, we witnessed some interesting case updates that took place in the field of trademarks and domain name disputes in the past year. Here is a brief of the key trademark-related updates in India that took place in the year 2020.

I.LEGISLATIVE DEVELOPMENTS

There was no significant legislative development in the trademark practice, apart from the Trademark Registry’s decision to go completely virtual with respect to prosecution hearings. The Trademark Registry and the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) much like all the judicial and quasi-judicial bodies across the country, for the time being, has done away with the physical mode of hearing, and it is taking up matters via video conference.

II.SIGNIFICANT CASE LAWS

Here is a recap of key cases within the domain:

Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. FAO(OS) 133/2019 |31-01-2020

In this case, the division bench of the Delhi High Court had set aside the lower court’s order restraining Amazon from allowing the sale of products of Amway India, a Direct Selling Entity, from its platform. Amway India filed a trademark infringement suit against Amazon on the ground that the e-commerce giant is liable as an intermediary for allowing and continuing to allow Amway India’s products (which it alleged were counterfeited products) to be listed on the former’s website by one of Amway’s direct seller. The lower court found Amazon liable for trademark infringement for non-observance of Direct Selling Guidelines and failing to demonstrate due diligence.   

The Division bench while setting aside the lower court’s order ruled that Direct Selling Guidelines are merely advisory to State Governments and Union Territories and they are not binding laws, and hence, it cannot be enforced against e-commerce intermediary. The Court further refuted the claim of trademark infringement on the ground that India follows the principle of international exhaustion of Trademarks, meaning once a good is lawfully acquired by the Direct Seller, the rights over the said good (including right re-sell) vested in the Direct Seller. Hence, Amazon as well as the seller were saved under the second sale exception to trademark infringement under section 30 (4) of the Trademarks Act, 1999.

Imagine Marketing Pvt. Ltd. V. Exotic Mile (CS(COMM) 519/2019) | 21-01-2020

The Plaintiff, commonly known in the market as “BoAt”, consumer electronics brand, sought an injunction against the Defendants from using the mark “BOULT” for the manufacture and sale of electronic audio gadgets mainly earphone, headphones, etc.

The Delhi High Court (single bench) had passed an interim injunction restraining the Defendant from using the mark “BOULT” ruling that it was deceptively similar to “BoAt” and that even their taglines were similar to each other. However, the Division Bench ordered a stay on the injunction order by stating that “prima facie there is no similarity visually or phonetically between the original Plaintiff and the Defendant.”

The matter is now evenly poised, and we await to see if the Division Bench would have a different take on its opinion after hearing the arguments.

Reckitt Benckiser (India) Pvt. Ltd v. Mohit Petrochemicals Pvt. Ltd. CS(COMM)No.141/2020 & I.A.Nos.4034-37/2020 | 28-05-2020

In an infringement suit filed by Reckitt Benckiser, the Delhi High Court while imposing Rupees One Lakh on Mohit Pharmaceuticals, permanently restrained them from selling hand sanitizers under the brand name “Devtol” which was considered deceptively similar to the Plaintiff’s well-known trademark “Dettol”.

M/s ITC Limited v. Nestle India Limited 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1158 | 10-06-2020

ITC had launched its Sunfeast Yippie Noodles in two varieties – one of which was “Magic Masala”. Defendant i.e., Nestle had adopted the name “Magical Masala” for one of their instant noodle product. Since Plaintiff had not registered the expression “Magic Masala” as a trademark, it filed a passing-off suit against Defendant. Defendant affirmed that they were using the term “Magical Masala” as a flavour descriptor. The Defendants further contended that “Magic” and “Masala” were the two most common terms that were used in the culinary industry and therefore could not be monopolized.

The High Court of Madras held that the expressions “Magic” and “Masala” were common terms that were used on a day-to-day basis in the Indian food industry and Indian culinary, therefore the same could not be monopolized by the Plaintiff or the Defendant. The court further opined that even Plaintiff had used the term “Magic Masala” as a flavour descriptor rather than a trademark or a sub-brand. Therefore, the court concluded that ITC had used the term “Magic Masala” in a laudatory manner and the same could not be monopolized.  

Hindustan Unilever v. Endurance Domain and Ors. 2020 SCC Online Bom 809 | 12-06-2020

In this case, Plaintiff approached the Bombay High Court seeking to suspend domain names with Plaintiff’s HUL trademarks which were registered under the authority of Defendant, a domain name registrant. Even though the Court was quick to grant relief to the defendant, it opined that Domain name registrants were neither equipped nor authorized to indefinitely suspend domain names once registered, since there was no human element involved to oversee the legitimacy of domain names.

The Court ruled that deciding what should or should not be suspended (or blocked) is a serious judicial function that could be arrived at only by assessing and balancing rival merits. Moreover, the Court observed that anyone can use a VPN to bypass a proxy server or firewall and have access to such blocked websites by masking the originating country IP of the user, hence, such ‘access blocking’ only offers a hollow and faux sense of safety to the Registrant. Besides, holding the Registrar liable if he is unable to effectively block access would expose the Registrar to the constant threat of contempt proceedings.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) v. Iskon Apparel Pvt. Ltd and Ors. 2020 SCC Online Bom 729 | 26-06-2020

In a trademark infringement and passing off suit instituted against the Defendant’s use of ISKON APPAREL, the Court while restricting Defendant from using the same ruled that ISKON is a well-known mark. This was a follow-up to Plaintiff’s pleading that the trademark “ISKON” be declared a well-known trademark. Plaintiff submitted that it was the first to create the name in the year 1996 in New York and over time it has created a global presence which is inclusive of India and the brand was not restricted to only one particular good or service but was into the diverse range of goods and services. The court after scrutinizing the evidence submitted by Plaintiff ruled that the brand name “ISKON” fell under the ambit of a well-known mark under the Trademark Acts of 1999.

Louis Vuitton Malletier vs Futuretimes Technology India Pvt Ltd CS(COMM) 222/2020 | 03-07-2020

Louis Vuitton had filed a civil suit against the Defendants, an e-commerce platform named Club Factory to restrain the sale of any counterfeit goods comprising their trademark. The Plaintiff prayed that the Defendants be restrained from selling any product with Plaintiff’s trademark, including “LOUIS VUITTON”, “LV Logo”, Toile monogram pattern, Damier pattern and/or LV flower pattern, or any other similar pattern that would constitute an infringement of the Plaintiff’s registered marks. The Delhi High Court, acting on it, issued summon notice to the Defendants. We wait to see if this case takes the same route as the case of Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. FAO(OS) 133/2019, to base the outcome on the evidence of counterfeited products or if it holds Club Factory liable in case the Defendant fails to demonstrate the minimum standard of due diligence as required from an intermediary. 

Arudra Engineers Pvt. Ltd. v. Pathanjali Ayurved Ltd. & Anr. 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1503 | 17-07-2020

Defendant, Patanjali, was restrained from using the word “Coronil” to market its product i.e., immunity booster tablets which Defendant claimed to have passed the test of clinical trials to cure coronavirus. The Court held that since Plaintiff had acquired registration of the trademark ‘CORONIL- 92 B’ in 1993 and had been using the same in relation to Acid inhibitor for industrial cleaning, Defendant’s action amounted to infringement under Section 29(4) of Trademarks Act, 1999. The court also opined that Patanjali’s use of the word ‘Coronil’ could deceive the consumers with respect to the likelihood of curing coronavirus through the tablet. Hence, considering the reputation of Plaintiff’s registered trademark and the larger public interest, the Court restrained Plaintiff from marketing its product under the name “Coronil”.  

Plex, Inc v. Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 989 | 01-10-2020

The Bombay High Court refused to grant an interim injunction as sought by Plaintiff (Plex) against ZEEPLEX, a pay-per-view service launched by Zee. The Court reasoned that Plaintiff’s case of passing off failed the trinity test since it was unable to establish any reputation, the similarity in services, and anticipated injury due to the adoption and use of ZEEPLEX, while Defendant had a long-standing reputation in India.    

Delhivery Private Ltd. v. Treasure Vase Ventures Private Ltd.  CS (COMM) 217/2020 | 12/10/2020

In an infringement suit by the logistics company “Delhivery” against the user of the mark “Deliver-E” for identical services, Delhi High Court held that Delhivery was a generic name describing the kind of service it provided i.e., delivery, and hence, it did not have the characteristics of an enforceable trademark.

Anil Rathi v. Shri Sharma Steeltech CS(COMM) 654/2019 | 23-10-2020

The Delhi High Court ruled that the use of the personal name, surname, or family name under Section 35 of Trademarks Act, 1999 was limited to personal use only and such rights did not extend to granting licenses to third parties for commercial use. In the instant case, Plaintiff had approached the Delhi High Court seeking an injunction against the use of the surname “RATHI” as a trademark by Defendant. The Court observed that there was a family arrangement in place which regulated the use of the family mark, and the act of Defendant of licensing the mark to third parties was in clear violation of the said arrangement, making Defendant liable for trademark infringement.

The PS5 Case Trademark Squatting Case: TM Opposition by Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc [Opposition No. 1040632] against TM Application PS5 [Application No. 4332863] filed in Class 28 by Hitesh Aswani

Sony’s launch of its latest edition of gaming console Play Station 5 of PS5 in India was halted when it discovered that an infamous trademark squatter named Hitesh Aswani had surreptitiously filed a trademark application for “PS5” on October 29, 2020, for the identical specification of goods that were covered under Sony’s PS4 trademark registration bearing application no. 2481440. Sony, understandably, filed an opposition against the said trademark, and the Applicant withdrew his application.

Sony filed its earliest trademark application for the mark “PS5” in Jamaica before Hitesh Aswani on October 03, 2019. Sony used the Jamaican application as the basic application to file international registration through the Madrid Protocol, claiming priority of October 03, 2019.

This was a textbook case of trademark squatting. Sony had priority over the squatter, and it is a settled position of law that priority trumps everything else as per law in India. Further, the mala fide intention of the squatter was evident from the almost verbatim replication of the specification of goods covered under Sony’s PS4 trademark registration.

This case reached its logical conclusion when Hitesh Aswani withdrew his application as well as the opposition which paved the way for Sony to register its mark in India and proceed to launch the product in India.

Sassoon Fab International Pvt Ltd. v. Sanjay Garg & Ors. [IPAB] ORA/171/2020/TM/DEL | 04-12-2020

In one of the most noteworthy cases that came up before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), the registration of the mark ‘N95’ bearing App No. 4487559 registered in Class 10 in favour of Mr. Sanjay Garg was stayed. IPAB observed that the N95 was prima facie a generic term that was used to provide the quality of the masks hence it was hit by Section 9 of the Act. Since Plaintiff had filed a rectification petition against the registration of the said mark before filing the instant petition, IPAB deemed it necessary to stay the operation of the Registration until the Rectification Application was finally decided and disposed of.     

Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. & Anr vs. Amul Franchise.in & Ors CS(Comm) 350/2020

This case concerned fraudulent registration of multiple websites with the term “AMUL” as prefix/suffix. In this case, the Delhi High Court directed the Registrar of Domains to suspend/block domain names containing the term “Amul”. The Court also restrained the Registrar from the further offering for sale of such domain names so ordered to be blocked.

The Delhi High Court rejected the Registrar’s contention that due to lack of adequate technology it cannot ensure that these websites containing ‘AMUL’ therein would not be made available for sale and suggested that the Registrar could utilize the same filter it employs to ensure that websites under obscene and/or words denoting illegality are not available for sale. This decision is in stark contrast with an earlier single judge bench order of the Bombay High Court dated June 12, 2020 – Hindustan Unilever Limited v. Endurance Domains Technology LLP, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 809wherein it held that Domain name registrants are neither equipped nor authorized to indefinitely suspend domain names once registered, since there is no human element involved to oversee the legitimacy of domain names.

CONCLUSION

Despite the majority of the judicial pronouncements being related to COVID-19 and lockdowns, 2020 will be the year that the Trademark Authority tightened its grip on trademark squatting, a way to curb the sales of counterfeit products on e-commerce platforms. Also, the IPAB’s order to put a stay on the registration of “N95” for medical equipment and apparatus exhibited the dismal examination standards at the Trademarks Registry since the term ‘N95’ is generic to medical products and no amount of use can justify the registration. We witnessed a handful of contrasting rulings in the year 2020 and a couple of disputes are lined up to be adjudicated in the year 2021. These are a few topics that are revisited time and again to not only protect the proprietors of the registered trademarks but also make sure that no defendant is being harassed unnecessarily by registered proprietors.  

 

Image Credits: Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Despite the majority of the judicial pronouncements being related to COVID-19 and lockdowns, 2020 will be the year that the Trademark Authority tightened its grip on trademark squatting, a way to curb the sales of counterfeit products on e-commerce platforms. 

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Delhi High Court Suspends CGPDTM Notice Fixing the IP Applications Cut-off Date

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court has suspended the operation of a public notice issued by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (CGPDTM) that had fixed the cut-off date (18.05.2020) for completion of various acts/proceedings, filings, payment of fees and other deadlines that had fallen due during this lockdown. The public notice was found to be contrary to the Supreme Court order which extended the period of limitation applicable to all proceedings before all Courts and Tribunals with effect from 15th March 2020 till further orders.

 

Keeping in mind the extraordinary situation prevailing in the Country attributable to the lockdown announced by the Government, causing difficulties to litigants/advocates in filing their petitions/suits/applications/appeals/or other proceedings, etc. within the limitation period, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had Suo Motu registered a case numbered as Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) Nos. 3/2020 titled Re: Cognisance for Extension of Limitation.  

Invoking its plenary power conferred by the Constitution under Articles 141 & 142, the Bench comprising of Hon’ble Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Hon’ble Justice L. Nageswara Rao & Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant passed the Order dated 23rd March 2020 extending the period of limitation applicable to all proceedings before all Courts and Tribunals governed by general law or special laws whether condonable or not with effect from 15th March 2020 till further orders.

The CGPDTM had issued a Public Notice dated 4th May 2020 informing applicants/registrants and/or its agents/advocates that the due-dates with respect to timelines/periods prescribed under the IP Acts and Rules, falling due during the lockdown, to complete various acts/proceedings, filing of any reply/document, payment of fees, etc. in the matter of any Intellectual Property (IP) applications, shall be 18th May 2020, since the lockdown period from 25th March 2020 to 3rd May 2020 was further extended by two weeks, i.e., till 17th May 2020.

Aggrieved by this public notice, a writ petition (W.P.(C) No.3059/2020) was filed before the Delhi High Court on 06.05.2020 by the Intellectual Property Attorneys Association (IPAA) challenging the said notice. The petitioners submitted that the public notice issued by the CGPDTM is a blatant disregard to the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 23rd March 2020, and specifically conferred the following arguments:  

  1. The order of extension of limitation is applicable to all proceedings irrespective of whether it was governed by general laws or special laws and would be in force with effect from 15th March 2020, as opposed to 25th March 2020 as mentioned in the public notice.
  1. The said extension of limitation shall be in effect until further orders. Hence, the cut-off due-date of 18th May 2020, fixed by the CGPDTM in the public notice, for the completion of various acts/proceedings, filings, payment of fees, etc. in the matters of any IP applications, is also contrary to the Supreme Court order. 
  1. The said due date of 18th May 2020 would also pose difficulties to litigants/advocates to obtain necessary documents/files and file them as per the prescribed procedures, since the lockdown would only be lifted on 17th May 2020.

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, taking into consideration the Supreme Court Order dated 23.03.2020 and the arguments of the petitioners, passed an Order dated 11th May 2020, holding that no Court, Tribunal, or Authority can act contrary to the order of the Supreme Court. Further, as per Article 144 of the Constitution, all authorities whether civil or judicial, located in the territory of India are required to act in aid of the orders passed by the Supreme Court. The Court also agreed that the period of limitation would stand effective from 15th March 2020 and not from 25th March 2020 as provided in the public notice. 

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court hence rightly held that order of Hon’ble Supreme Court was binding on the CGPDTM and disposed of the petition by suspending the operation of the public notice dated 4th May 2020.

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court has suspended the operation of a public notice issued by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (CGPDTM) that had fixed the cut-off date (18.05.2020) for completion of various acts/proceedings, filings, payment of fees and other deadlines that had fallen due during this lockdown. The public notice was found to be contrary to the Supreme Court order which extended the period of limitation applicable to all proceedings before all Courts and Tribunals with effect from 15th March 2020 till further orders.

Image Credits: Photo by samer daboul from Pexels

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, taking into consideration the Supreme Court Order dated 23.03.2020 and the arguments of the petitioners, passed an Order dated 11th May 2020, holding that no Court, Tribunal or Authority can act contrary to the order of the Supreme Court. Further, as per Article 144 of the Constitution, all authorities whether civil or judicial, located in the territory of India are required to act in aid of the orders passed by the Supreme Court. The Court also agreed that the period of limitation would stand effective from 15th March 2020 and not from 25th March 2020 as provided in the public notice. 

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Quality Drafting: Key to the Success of Patents

Increased IP awareness and the consequent surge in the rate of patent filings have failed to deliver on the effectiveness quotient of IP enforcement in the market. This has necessitated thorough scrutiny by the Indian Patent Office (IPO) to deter applicants from getting a grant on inventions that might not be able to stand a trail in the Court of Law if its discussed. Therefore, drafting a patent application (specification) plays a crucial role in the success of an invention. From acceptance to infringement actions, the content and quality of the draft determine the fate of the invention. An inventor may know his invention well but might not be able to explain it in a manner compliant to the requirement of the patent office. In such a scenario, professional assistance from an experienced patent practitioner is sought and it is expected of them to understand the technical complexity of the invention at hand and have the desired foreseeability to help the invention survive the various tests.

Impact of drafting the patent specifications having broader scope:

The broader you cover the invention, the broader is your scope of the invention protected. Drafting the patent specifications broadly, covering related future developments, would restrict competitors to a possible extent from claiming similar invention with slight modifications. Therefore, in drafting the specification, the patent expert should avoid using phrases such as “the invention is…” instead they could use phrases like “in an embodiment of the invention.” This will ensure that patent claims receive the broadest interpretation possible.[i] Moreover, broadly drafted patent specification still provides the chance to the applicant to narrow down the specification at the worst case and proceed further to put the application in order of grant. However, care must be taken to limit the breadth so as not to go beyond the invention. Too broad description, without precise details and proper drafting in view of the existing prior arts, might lead to rejection of claims or increased susceptibility to complex patent prosecution.

 

Impact of having various embodiments in patent specifications:

While drafting patent specifications, various embodiments should be provided in order to ensure better clarity in terms of the scope of the patent application. Multiple embodiments should disclose all the possible methods of performing the invention and different combinations of structural components that are involved to achieve the objective of the invention including alternatives. The embodiments disclosed could effectively restrict competitors from claiming a scope similar to the applicant’s invention with slight modification. Additionally, varying embodiments assist in identifying the means that one could employ to avoid infringement and those means must be incorporated to protect the invention from future actions. However, the best patent claims will protect the “invention” itself so that no physical embodiments of the invention can be made, used or sold by anyone without infringing the claims.

 

Impact of having an effective background section in patent specification:

The background section should disclose the existing state of the art to which the invention relates to and the areas of improvement as well as the limitations of such existing art. It must also state the need for the present invention and provide a solution to the problem associated with the state of the art. Care must be taken so as not to limit the scope of the invention to a particular state of the art and if possible, its application to other fields should be hinted.

 

Impact of using appropriate terminologies in patent specifications:

Drafting of patent application in a precise and clear manner, using appropriate terminologies, enable applicants to claim the scope of the invention to the maximum possible extent. Terminologies utilized in the patent specifications have a substantial importance in protecting the scope at the time of patent prosecutions/enforcement. Say, for instance, using the terminology specifically like “selfie” in an invention related to image capturing would limit the scope of the invention to selfies only. Whereas using a broad term such as “image” would protect the invention not only for “selfies” but also for other images. However, the best practice is to use only the appropriate terminologies that are applicable/relevant to the invention. Further, the terminology used in claims should have proper enablement/support in the patent specification. Similarly, inconsistencies must be avoided as it may limit the extent of protection and could render the claim objectionable. Finally, negative limitations and disclaimers should generally be avoided because they do not provide the elegant and artful claim language that offers the best protection for inventions.

 

Impact of claiming the invention in various perspectives and categories:

Claiming the invention in all possible perspectives and categories enables the inventor to protect the scope of the invention entirely. For instance, claiming the invention only in transmission perspective provides a chance to the competitor to exploit the rights of the applicant’s invention in reception perspective with minor changes. Similarly, claiming the invention in all possible categories under a single inventive concept would enable the inventor to completely protect the invention. Else claiming only in one particular category provides a chance to competitors to exploit the rights.

 

Conclusion:

The best practice is to draft patent specifications with utmost care to extract maximum benefits. Patent Practioners need to identify how best to protect their clients’ invention and achieve their clients’ business objectives. It is essential that novelty, utility, and non-obviousness of the invention are adequately represented in the application. Apart from the above-mentioned observations, certain key points such as precision and brevity of claims, lack of repetition, noting essential features and elements of the invention, and going from broadest claim to the narrowest would help in proper drafting.

 

References 

[i] https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/patents/867/wipo_pub_867.pdf

 

 

Image Credits:  Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

The best practice is to draft patent specifications with utmost care to extract maximum benefits. Patent Practitioners need to identify how best to protect their clients’ inventions and achieve their clients’ business objectives. It is essential that the novelty, utility, and non-obviousness of the invention are adequately represented in the application.

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