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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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Development in Indian Trademark Law in 2019

India moved up one spot up in terms of trademark filings from its previous year’s ranking according to the World Intellectual Property Indicators published in October 2019. The report also pointed out a large increase in trademark filing activity in India i.e. more than 20.9% with resident filing activity overwhelmingly contributing to the double-digit growth. Having remained below 100,000 until 2006, India’s trademark annual filings now exceed 320,000.

The year also saw some judicial and policy development enabling efficient functioning of the trademark laws in the said context. Legislations have also tried to catch up with the ever-increasing activity in the digital space. Some of the essential enactments and pronouncements are stated hereunder:

 

LEGISLATIVE & POLICY DEVELOPMENTS

 

  1. National E-Commerce Policy [Draft]

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) on February 23, 2019 released the National E-commerce Policy[1] to prepare and enable stakeholders to fully benefit from the opportunities that would arise from progressive digitalization of the domestic digital economy. The draft policy laid special emphasis on the compulsory adoption of anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy mechanisms by E-commerce platforms. Such adoption would not only curb piracy and counterfeiting but would further make the transactions explicit for the sellers, trademark owners and consumers enabling the system to work transparently.

  1. Trade Mark Registry’s Proposal to Restrict Access to Certain Documents

The Ministry of Commerce & Industries on September 06, 2019, issued a public notice[2] inviting suggestions on the categorization of documents put up on their official website as :

  1. Full access documents which can be viewed and downloaded by the general public.
  2. Documents with description but viewing and downloading restricted.

Several confidential, personal and exclusive information was being put up via documents that needed to be protected and access to them had to be duly regulated. Hence the proposal.

 

NOTABLE CASE LAWS

Some of the noteworthy trademark cases for the year 2019 would be:

1.      Crocs Inc Usa v. Bata India Ltd & Ors[3]

The plaintiff (Crocs) after an unsuccessful attempt in the lower court to sue the Defendant (Bata) for design infringement, approached the Delhi High Court pressing for an injunction on the ground of passing-off action under common law. The High Court considered the legislative intent of the Design Act of providing monopoly over the design vide registration only for a limited period, thereby making it available for public use after the tenure of the registered design. This objective would be lost if the design was allowed to be used as a trademark since the exclusive rights would then last till perpetuity. However, the court clarified that if there was an additional feature that had been extensively used as a trademark other than what has been protected as design, and goodwill had accrued in relation to the use of such feature as a trademark, it is only those features which could be protected as a trademark.

2.      Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. v. 1MG Technologies Pvt. Ltd. & Anr.[4]

In another important case, the plaintiff (Amway) sought a mandatory and perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from using the plaintiff’s trademark and selling products online without the plaintiff’s consent. The Delhi High Court restrained e-commerce platforms from selling products falling under the direct selling category without the consent of the proprietor of the registered trademark. The court held such an act enabling the sale of the product on the defendant’s website as not only infringement of the plaintiff’s trademark leading to dilution, passing-off and misrepresentation but also ultra vires the “direct selling guidelines 2016”. The court further observed that the intermediaries (e-commerce marketplace) should fulfil the due diligence requirements in order to avail the safe harbour protection.

  1. Amrish Agarwal v/s Venus Home Appliances Pvt Ltd[5]

It was ruled that in cases alleging trademark infringement, a legal proceedings certificate (LPC) ought to be mandatorily filed along with the plaint. In the said case, the LPC was filed at the stage of final arguments. It was objected on the ground that LPC filed in the last leg of the case ought to be disallowed. The said objection was counter-argued stating that a renewal certificate was brought on record and duly exhibited. In this regard, the Court held that in a trademark infringement case, the Court must be able to see the mark, and therefore an LPC or the certificate of registration along with the journal extract ought to be submitted at the initial stage itself.

 

The increased trademark filing activity illustrates an increased awareness among emerging entities regarding their intellectual property rights and the necessity to protect them as early as possible. With increased competition, the availment of trademark registration is also becoming a tough nut to crack. Further, the fluid nature of the digital environment poses a continuous challenge to the IP domain. Conducive policy changes and judicial decisions in the past year have dealt with some of these threats but for adequately serving the public interest implementation challenges have to be appropriately addressed

 

References 

[1] Available at https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/DraftNational_e-commerce_Policy_23February2019.pdf

[2] http://ipindia.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/Images/pdf/Catergorization_of_Docs.pdf

[3]CS(COMM) 569/2017

[4] CS (OS) 410/2018, 453/2018, 480/2018, 531/2018, 550/2018, 75/2019 & 91/2019

[5] CM (M) 1059/2018

 

 

Image Credits: Lukas Blazek on Unsplash 

Conducive policy changes and judicial decisions in the past year have dealt with some of the threats but for adequately serving the public interest implementation challenges have to be appropriately addressed.

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Liabilities of Intermediaries In Trademark Infringement Cases In India

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

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

 

Definition of Intermediaries

 

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

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

 

Exemption from the liability/ Safe Harbour Provision

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Christian Louboutin SAS vs Nakul Bajaj & Others

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Post Louboutin Case

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

References

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

[ii] AIR 2015 SC 1523

[iii] 236 (2017) DLT 478

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

[v] FAO(OS) 93/2012

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

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

[viii] CS (OS) 410/2018

 

Image Credits: Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

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

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