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.

References:

[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: https://unsplash.com/photos/qscDBbXBGiI?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

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. 

POST A COMMENT

The Football World Cup: An IP Spectacle

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

POST A COMMENT

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

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

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

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

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

Trademark Law and the Bar of Religion

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

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

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

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

Indian Jurisprudence and the Contours of Religious Susceptibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POST A COMMENT

Fluid Trademarks- A Brand’s Alter Identity

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

Fluid Trademarks- A Brand’s Alter Identity

                                                                        Fig: The recent Amul Doodle[1]

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

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

 

What are Fluid Marks?

 

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

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

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

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

 

Protection of Fluid Marks

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

 

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Photo by Eva Bronzini

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

POST A COMMENT

Securing your Data with the Trade Marks Registry

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

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

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

 

Fundamental Concerns

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

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

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

 

Initiatives by the Trade Mark Registry

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

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

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

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

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

 

Roadblocks and Viable Course of Action

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

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

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

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

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

 

Privacy-by-Design

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

References:

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

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

POST A COMMENT

Squaring the Snags of Online Hearings

The Indian Trademarks Registry (“TM Registry”) had always extended the facility of virtual hearings much before the onset of the pandemic. However, not many IP attorneys and Trademark Agents preferred to utilise this resource due to issues surrounding the system and the process.

Recently, the Delhi High Court, in the case of Pawandeep Singh v. The Registrar of Trademarks & Anr., W.P.(C)-IPD 7/2022 & CM 30/2022, pointed out numerous inefficiencies in the virtual hearing system of the Trademarks Registry and instructed the concerned authorities to streamline and optimise the current system.

The petitioner in this matter had filed a writ petition against the orders passed by the Registrar of Trademarks in respect of Application No. 3981639 for the mark “SWISS”. The grouse of the petitioner was that the order was passed without affording a hearing to the petitioner, which violated the principles of natural justice.

The agent who had logged in for the hearing was kept in the virtual waiting room at the time of the hearing and was not admitted. Hence, the petitioners were not allowed to put forth their oral arguments. However, it was officially recorded that submissions were heard. The petitioner informed the Hearing Officer via email regarding the situation, but no response was received. The petitioner was further surprised when he received the refusal order.

The ‘Hon’ble Court, based on the submissions made by both the parties, recorded the following observations:

  1. The cause list for hearings at the Registry is published monthly.
  2. The TM Registry’s virtual platform allows only three people to be present in the hearing at any given time, and the remaining attendees are kept in the waiting room.
  3. An order that the Hearing Officer passes has two parts, the templated portion and the non-templated portion where the Hearing Officer types out the order. The templated piece is not editable and states that the matter was set down for hearing and, eventually, the hearing took place on a particular date.

In this matter, the Hearing Officer did admit that the petitioner in the present case was not heard, and the templated portion of the impugned order is contrary to the fact. The illegality is compounded when the order captures that the hearing took place, whereas the counsel was kept waiting in the waiting room but was not admitted.

The Court remarked and directed that the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trademarks must devise a proper mechanism for holding show cause hearings by including the following features:

  1. Publication of cause list notices daily.
  2. Utilising a platform with an open link.
  3. Matters should be called serial number-wise for certainty and convenience of the applicants.
  4. Removal of templates from the order statements which may vary on a case-to-case basis.
  5. Some extra space is made available for Senior Examiners to put their brief reasons for allowing or refusing the application.

The Court held that a proposal on behalf of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trademarks in respect of holding show cause hearings on the points outlined above should be placed on record within two weeks. It may also consult the IP fraternity and stakeholders if required.

The matter has also brought to the forefront the inefficiencies of the online hearings, which stakeholders have long since been bringing to the attention of the Registry. With online hearings gaining prominence, the suggestions of the Court are the right steps towards a more efficient and transparent system that will stand the test of time.

Image Credits: Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

With online hearings gaining prominence, the suggestions of the Court are the right steps towards a more efficient and transparent system that will stand the test of time.

POST A COMMENT

Draft Delhi High Court IPR Division Rules, 2021: Observations and Concerns

On 10th October, 2021 the Delhi High Court had issued a Public Notice proposing the Draft “Delhi High Court Intellectual Property Rights Division Rules, ­ 2021”. The Court vide the said notice had invited comments from the members of the Bar by 24th October, 2021. In a much-anticipated development, following the incorporation of the inputs from the Bar, on 10th December 2021 the Hon’ble High Court released the finalised draft of the proposed Rules and has sought suggestions by the relevant stakeholders by December 17, 2021.

 

In July 2021, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court announced the constitution of IPD (Intellectual Property Division) following the abolition of IPAD. The Draft Rules seek to regulate the matters listed before the IPD with respect to practice and procedure for the exercise of its original and appellate jurisdiction, and for other miscellaneous petitions arising out of specific statutes[1].

 

The Structure

The Draft Intellectual Property Rights Division Rules, ­ 2021 has a framework of 41 Rules addressing and dealing with various procedures and definitions to be applied while adjudicating cases before the IPD. The General Clause under Rule 29 clarifies that “procedures not specifically provided for in these Rules shall, in general, be governed by The Civil Procedure Code, 1908 as amended by The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 and the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018.”

It is pertinent to note that, following the inputs by the Bar, the term “Acts” under Rule 2a is also now inclusive of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Consequently, under Rule 2d “Appeal” shall also include “an appeal filed before, or transferred to, the IPD” with the nomenclature [C.A. (Comm. IPD-IT)] Under Section 62 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

The Draft Rules under rule 2i the “intellectual property subject matter” for the purpose of these rules concern the following:

  1. Matters pertaining to Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Geographical Indications, Plant Varieties, Designs, Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout-Designs, Traditional Knowledge, and all rights under common law, if any related to these.
  2. Matters relating to passing off, unfair competition, disparagement, comparative advertising, and other similar issues.
  3. Matters concerning the protection of trade secrets, confidential information, and other related subjects.
  4. Matters relating to tortious actions related to privacy and publicity rights involving intellectual property issues.
  5. Matters pertaining to data exclusivity, domain names, and other matters relating to data protection involving intellectual property issues, as well as those arising under the Acts.
  6. Matters involving internet violations relating to any of the subject matters under clauses (i) through (v).

Notably, the rights related to data protection, data inclusivity and other such related matters are also covered under the scope of the said “subject-matter’. The Explanation attached with the provision states that cases pertaining to the Information Technology Act, 2000 which deal with the rights and liabilities of the intermediaries, online market places and e-commerce platforms

And those “issues relating to any of the aforementioned rights, shall be deemed to be within the purview of intellectual property rights.” 

The final Draft Rules present a precise scope of jurisdiction of the Draft Rules under Rule 4, as compared to the earlier version. The Rule now states that “Every IPR subject matter or case or proceeding or dispute filed before or transferred to, the IPD, as defined in Rules 2(i), 2(j) and 2(l), shall be heard and adjudicated by a Single Judge of the IPD except those that are to be decided by a Division Bench as per Section 13 of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.”

Rule 6 elaborates the procedure for filing an appeal before the IPD. As per Rule 6 (xii)

“Procedures applicable to Civil Appeals filed before the Single Judge: The Delhi High Court Rules and Orders as also the Practice directions issued from time to time, to the extent there is no inconsistency with these Rules, shall be applicable to appeals filed before the IPD.”

Procedures for filing original civil petitions, civil writ petitions and civil miscellaneous petitions are discussed under Rules 7, 8 and 9 respectively. Further, Rules 10 to 14 enumerate additional requisite procedures to be followed while addressing a suit to the IPD.

Subsequent to the comments by the members of the Bar, the final Draft Rules have incorporated additional provisions pertaining to the recording of the evidence, hot-tubbing or other such modes of recording evidence, discovery and disclosure, preservation of evidence by the parties, Confidentiality clubs and redaction of confidential information and, damages and accounts of profits; from Rules 15-20.

Under Rule 15, recording of evidence can be undertaken through video conferencing ( as per the High Court of Delhi Rules for Video Conferencing for Courts 2021). The use of videography and transcription technology or any other form of recording evidence can also be applied. Further, evidence can also be recorded at any venue outside the court or by a Local Commissioner. However, it is imperative to note that, the discussed methods shall only be applicable if the court is of the opinion that the same is expedient in the interest of justice.

Interestingly, Rule 18 puts an onus on the parties to the proceedings to “preserve all documentary, tangible and electronic material relating to the subject matter of the proceedings which is capable of being relied upon as evidence” upon the initiation of or receiving notice about the institution of the proceedings before the IPD. Prior to the initiation of the proceedings, a party may issue a Litigation Hold Notice that shall set in motion the evidence preservation liability of the party.

Rule 19 addresses the establishment of a ‘confidentiality club’ by the court at any stage of the proceedings for the preservation and exchange of confidential information filed before the Court including documents, as per the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018. Further, the rules state that upon a request by application the court may direct the redaction of such information. However, the rules fail to mention the party, legal practitioner, expert etc that shall have the Locus Standi to approach the court with such application.

Rule 20 elaborates upon the factors that the courts shall have to take into consideration while determining the quantum of damage for a party seeking to settle accounts of profits/damages. Notably, the rule provides that the courts may engage expert assistance (provided for in Rule 31) in the computation of such damages.

The final Draft Rules, 2021 also lay down provision for summary adjudication under Rule 27 on principles akin to those enumerated in Order XIIIA, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and as applicable to commercial suits under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. It is interesting to note that, unlike the previous version the current rules do not have any provision for summary adjudication in Patent Cases.

With an objective to curb unnecessary delays in the disposal of suits, it is apparent that the High Court has ensured provisions relating to strict guidelines for a written and water-tight timeline for oral submissions are included under Rule 33 of the 2021 Division Rules.

 

Conclusion

The establishment of an independent Intellectual Property Division is an indication of acknowledgement of the importance of Intellectual Property in the country. The corresponding 2021 Division Rules is a concrete step forward, however, the following aspects demand a more sincere deliberation:

  1. Clarity with respect to the Locus Standi of parties, legal practitioners, agents, experts etc. to the case for extending an application to the ‘Confidentiality Club’ needs to be determined.
  2. Under Rule 31 constitution of a Panel of Experts is provided to extend advisory assistance to the court relating to the subject matter of the dispute, as and when necessary. While the provision is definitely in resonance with maintaining the quality adjudicatory function, it fails to elaborate upon the criteria of appointment of the experts. Additionally, the rule mentions ‘reviewing’ the expert panel from time to time, however, the nature and period of such review has not been discussed.

The establishment of an independent Intellectual Property Division is an indication of acknowledgement of the importance of Intellectual Property in the country. The corresponding 2021 Division Rules is a concrete step forward, however, some aspects demand a more sincere deliberation

POST A COMMENT

Online Games Involving Money Now Banned in Karnataka

In a major setback to the Online Gaming platforms and all other gaming entities in Karnataka falling under the category of wagering or betting, the Karnataka Government on 5th October 2021 notified the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, (“Act”/”Amendment”) which prohibited all forms of online gaming involving a transfer of money.

The controversial legislation comes in the backdrop of the upcoming T20 World Cup involving a huge stake for online gaming companies, including MPL, Dream11, to name a few. Further, it is said to damage Bangalore/Karnataka’s position as the country’s start-up capital which houses about 92 gaming companies and employs over 4,000 persons. 

Key Amendments Made Through the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Amendment widened the scope of certain definitions under Section 2 of the Act. Some of the key amendments are:  

The definition of the term “Gaming” under Section 2(7) has been revised to include online games that involve “all forms of wagering or betting, including in the form of tokens valued in terms of money paid before or after issue of it, or electronic means and virtual currency, electronic transfer of funds in connection with any game of chance“.

Similarly, Section 2(11) that defines “Instruments of gaming” has been substantially expanded and now includes any article used or intended to be used as a subject or means of gaming, including computers, computer system, mobile app or internet or cyberspace, virtual platform, computer network, computer resource, any communication device, electronic applications, software and accessory or means of online gaming, any document, register or record or evidence of any gaming in electronic or digital form, the proceeds of any online gaming as or any winning or prizes in money or otherwise distributed or intended to be distrusted in respect of any gaming“.

The Amendment has also introduced a new Section 12(A) that defines “online gaming” as “games as defined in clause (7) played online by means of instruments of gaming, computer, computer resource, computer network, computer system or by mobile app or internet or any communication device, electronic application, software or on any virtual platform;

Further, Section 78 has been amended to criminalize activities related to opening certain forms of gaming centres and penalize anyone who opens, keeps or uses cyber cafes, computer resources, mobile apps, the internet, or any communication device as defined in the IT Act for online gaming. Offences under Section 78 have been made cognizable and bailable.

The Amendment has also increased the nature of, and scope of punishments for various offences. Offences under Section 78 and Section 87 of the Act that deals with gaming in public streets are punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to ten thousand rupees. 

Punishments under Section 79, which criminalizes keeping common gaming house, and Section 80, which criminalizes gaming in common gaming-house, have been increased to imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to one lakh rupees. 

Previously, Sections 79 and Section 80 did not apply to wager in games of pure skill. The Amendment removed this exception, bringing games of skill as well under the purview of the ban.

Judicial Stand on Similar Bans Placed on Online Gaming

Recently in the case of Junglee Games v. State of Tamil Nadu[1], the Madras High Court struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, which was similar to the Amendment in Karnataka, holding that such a blanket ban was excessive and disproportionate and that it was violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Rajasthan High Court in Saahil Nalwaya v. State of Rajasthan and Ors. [2] held that online fantasy sports, which functions under the Charter for Online Fantasy Sports Platforms of the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, the self-regulatory body in the online fantasy gaming industry which we have discussed before, are protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in Avinash Mehrotra v. The State of Rajasthan[3], dismissed an SLP from a decision of the High Court of Rajasthan, thereby upholding the judgements of the Rajasthan High Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and the Bombay High Court, that games such as Dream11 do not involve any commission of the offence of gambling and betting.

Considering these judicial stands, the constitutional and legal validity of the Amendment is also in question, and the Amendment will likely be challenged in Court.

 

Effects of the Amendment Banning Online Gaming in Karnataka

Immediately after the Amendment Act was notified, Online platforms started geotagging and blocking access to their apps for users in Karnataka. While MPL and PayTM First seem to have blocked access to their users in Karnataka, some other online fantasy sports apps are still trying to interpret and adhere to the new legislation.

Industry experts predict that the ban will impact over 10% of online transactions in the country and will cause around 7-12% loss of revenue to the online gaming industry other than damaging the investor-friendly tag of Karnataka. 

 

The Way Forward

This move is the latest of the numerous attempts by legislatures in different States of the Country to ban online gaming. Such actions are criticized for showcasing the misplaced concern of the legislature for online games, and critics advocate for regulation instead of an outright ban. While clarity is needed and perhaps the rules which are yet to be framed may help clear the air, the Gaming industry may not wait until then from moving to Court challenging the blanket ban.

References

[1] (2021) SCC OnLine Mad 2762.

[2] D.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 2026/2021.

[3] SLP (Civil) Diary No. 18478/2020.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Aidan Howe on Unsplash

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue.

POST A COMMENT

The Messi Exit: A Legal & Financial Perspective

Behind the passions of the fans, tackled goals, swanky parties and brand endorsements, there is a lot that goes into structuring a football team/club, registration as well as the transfer of a player while maintaining sustainable finances. 

In response to multiple financial irregularities in clubs such as Deportivo La Coruña, Racing Santander, Valencia, Real Zaragoza, Real Mallorca, Albacete, Real Betis etc., the economic control framework was introduced in 2013 to keep clubs financially afloat and maintain competitive sustainability.

At a later stage, FFP (Financial Fair Play) came into effect against errant clubs for breach of regulations. Spain’s economic control- La Liga controls the fire before it can damage (to an extent) by setting a limit to the amount a club can spend, thereby making it easier to stay within limits and preventing the creation of unsustainable debts. 

What were the legal reasons for Messi’ s exit from Barcelona?

 

Recently Argentinean professional footballer Lionel Andrés Messi, popularly known as Leo Messi, decided to part ways with the Spanish football club FC Barcelona and join the French football club Paris Saint-Germain. Messi had been with the Spanish club for the last 21 years and their association came to an end on 30th June 2021, when they decided to move on.

Messi had agreed to a new five-year contract with Barcelona, however on 8th August 2021, the legendary football player announced his exit from the Spanish club, by signing a two-year contract with the French club Paris Saint-Germain, with the option of further extension up to a year. FC Barcelona announced that despite the agreement between the club and Messi, they were not able to honour the new contract due to the Spanish football league’s (LaLiga’s) financial fair-play rules. 

 

What is LaLiga Financial Fair-play Rule? 

 

Under the LaLiga fair play rule, each club is provided with a cost limit for each season, which includes the wages of the players, the coaching staff, physios, reserve teams, etc. Clubs have the flexibility to decide how the wages are distributed, as long as the overall limit is not breached. Factors taken into consideration for setting the financial cap are inclusive of expected revenues, profits and losses from previous years, existing debt repayments, and sources of external financing among others. In this case, the Catalan club could not accommodate Messi’s contract within the financial limit for the upcoming year, even though Messi was allegedly willing to take a 50% pay cut. 

Considering the fact that Messi is Barcelona’s record scorer with 751 goals and 10 La Liga titles, Messi’s exit could mean a heavy blow for the world’s most valuable[1] European football club. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales, and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales, and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season. However, there is no question over how Messi has played an important role in bringing laurels to Barcelona over the past few years, which has garnered a significant fan following, not just for the footballer, but also for the club. Thus, his exit may likely cause a dip in the viewership and fan following which will directly affect the Club’s revenue.

Typically for a footballer, his contract with any club would include basic salary, signing-on fees, royalty fees, and objectives based on games. Apart from these, some of the other key element included in a contract is his image rights, merchandising right and licensing deals, which form a major portion of any footballer’s gross income. 

 

What are Image Rights? 

Image rights are the expression of a personality in the public domain. For an athlete, it will include their name, photo, and likeness, signature, personal brand, slogans, or logos, etc. Generally, football clubs try to extract a greater percentage from the image rights of a player, in a club capacity as compared to their personal capacity. Club capacity is usually when the image rights of the player are used in connection with or combined with his name, colours, crest, strip, logos identifying him as a player for his club. Personal capacity is usually when the player is appearing in and conducting activities outside his role as a player at the club. 

Any player leaving the club would have an impact on the commercial revenue generated by the club in the form of sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales as well as digital content. This would be especially notable for a player like Messi, whose personal brand value boasts over 130 trademarks. Messi’s trademark portfolio consists of mostly a single class trademark in his home country of Argentina, with others filed or registered in China, Brazil, EU, Malaysia, UK, Spain, Canada, Chile, and the US. The most common goods and services represented in Messi’s trademark portfolio are class 25 (clothing and footwear), class 28 (games, toys, and sporting apparatus) and class 9 (computer software). Apart from the above classes, class 18 has been filed in multiple applications.

The trademark consists of either the word mark MESSI/LIONEL MESSI or his logo. This means that Barcelona will no longer be able to use the footballer’s name or logo for apparel and merchandise sales, which will directly impact its revenue as most clubs collect a portion of the sales revenue. Also, Messi’s exit means that the club will have no control over his image rights to attract corporate sponsorships. Further, Messi’s huge online presence, with over 276 million Instagram followers, which is more than double of Barcelona’s official account (100 million), will have a direct impact on any advertising or publicity that the club may generate. 

A player of Messi’s stature, brand, and persona is significant to any club. How the present scenario is played with the new club and how much impact Messi’s presence will bring to Paris Saint-Germain is yet to be seen. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season.

POST A COMMENT