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:
- The cause list for hearings at the Registry is published monthly.
- 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.
- 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:
- Publication of cause list notices daily.
- Utilising a platform with an open link.
- Matters should be called serial number-wise for certainty and convenience of the applicants.
- Removal of templates from the order statements which may vary on a case-to-case basis.
- 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.
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.