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23 Aug 2017

WHY YOU SHOULD REGISTER YOUR (WELL-KNOWN) MARKS IN INDIA- NOW!

The enactment of the Trade Marks Rules, 2017, has paved the way for formal registration of “well-known” Marks in India. Although India did recognise Well-Known marks earlier (through its Trade Marks Act, 1999, which came into force on September 15, 2003), there was no provision for their formal registration. After the 1999 Act, the Indian Trademark Registry made efforts to consolidate marks that, over a period of time, were recognised as “well-known” by various Courts, Tribunals, Registrar etc. and made available this list online which has 81 “well-known” marks. 

Going by the list, Trademark “Philips” seems to have been the first trademark that was recognized as a well-known mark in India back in 1983. However, it was the famous case of “BENZ” by Delhi High Court which made Well-known marks concept well known and accepted in India (1994 PTC 287).

 

WHY WELL-KNOWN MARKS?

Almost every brand is created with the aim of making it a top brand; however, only a few survive the test of time and of those few, just a fraction makes it to the big league.

Looking back in history reveals that brands such as Toyota, Microsoft and Apple, that are today globally-recognised, took several years to enter the league. By contrast, brands such as Google, Facebook and WhatsApp made it to the list in much shorter timelines.  Of-course, the nature of their business, the increasing pervasiveness of the internet and the era of rapid globalisation also played a role in these brands achieving global recognition much faster.

There surely are certain benefits of “well-known marks”, the most important of them perhaps being protection from dilution, provided of course, that they continue to deliver superior, differentiated products and services.

WHAT IS A WELL-KNOWN MARK?

Section 2(1)(zg) of The Trade Marks Act, 1999, defines a “well-known trade mark” in relation to any goods or services, as “a mark which has become so to the substantial segment of the public which uses such goods or receives such services that the use of such mark in relation to other goods or services would be likely to be taken as indicating a connection in the course of trade or rendering of services between those goods or services and a person using the mark in relation to the first-mentioned goods or services.

What that means is – well-known marks are generally those that are acknowledged to have a high degree of reputation even beyond the areas of business of the proprietors of the marks. Such marks have attained such a degree of goodwill amongst general public (within a particular jurisdiction or even beyond) that even the use of such mark in relation to goods/services it is not generally associated with, would remind general public of the original source/product/service/proprietor. 

WHY DID INDIA AMEND ITS LAW TO PROVIDE PROTECTION TO WELL KNOWN MARKS?

India being a signatory to the TRIPS Agreement was obligated to amend its Trademark law by providing protection to well-known marks.

Articles 16.2 and 16.3 of the TRIPS Agreement contain certain provisions on well-known marks, which obligate member States to refuse or to cancel the registration, and to prohibit the use of a mark conflicting with a well-known-mark.

PROCEDURE FOR REGISTRATION OF WELL-KNOWN MARKS

Below we try to address a few questions like ‘how to register a well known mark’ and ‘how much does it cost’ to register a trademark.

Application for registration of Trademark:

As per Rule 124 of the Trade Marks Rules, 2017, any person may file a request for determination of a trade mark as well-known (interesting to note that here it has been avoided using the term “registration”, using instead the word “determination”). Each such request shall be accompanied by:

  1. A statement of case describing the applicant’s rights and claim over such mark being a well-known mark;
  2. Evidence in support of applicant’s rights and claims;
  3. Details of a court order, if any in which such mark was recognised as a well-known mark; and
  4. Requisite fee (INR 1, 00,000.00).

The Registrar may call for further such documents/information as he thinks fit for the determination of a mark as “well-known”.

Prosecution & Registration:

If the application is found in order, the Registrar may, before determining a trade mark as well-known, also invite objections from the general public. Such objections must be filed within thirty days from the date of invitation.

Notwithstanding the above, if it is found that a trade mark has been erroneously or inadvertently included in the said list, the Registrar may, at any time, remove a trade mark from the list of well- known marks, after hearing the concerned party.

WHO SHOULD REGISTER?

All proprietors who believe their marks to be “well-known” marks must consider making an application for determination of their mark as a well-known mark.

Further, proprietors of the marks that have been recognised by a Court of Law or Registrar as a well-known mark must also consider this registration with the Trademark Registry.

WHY TO REGISTER?

Once a trademark is determined by the Indian Trademark Registry to be as a well-known mark, the proprietor can be assured that no one else can register an identical or a similar mark in any of the 45 classes of goods and services in India. Registration would definitely safeguard the proprietors (of well-known marks) from the trouble of opposing every identical/similar mark every time a third party tries to register or to contest the registration of marks which may have been erroneously registered in any of the 45 classes.

HOW IS DETERMINATION/REGISTRAION OF A “WELL-KNOWN” MARK MADE?

As per Section 11(6) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999, The Registrar shall take into account several factors in determining whether a mark can be recognised in India as “well-known”. Such factors include the following:

  1. the knowledge or recognition of that mark amongst the relevant sections of the public in India as a result of promotion of the trade mark;
  2. the duration, extent and geographical area of promotion/use of the trade mark;
  3. the duration and geographical area of any registration/application of that trade mark under this Act to the extent they reflect the use or recognition of the trade mark;
  4. successful enforcement of the trade mark to such an extent that such trade mark has been recognised as a well-known trade mark by any court or Registrar.

Further, Section 11(7) of the Act states that the Registrar shall, while determining whether a trade mark is a “well-known” mark for the purposes of sub-section (6), also take into account:

  1. the number of actual or potential consumers of the goods or services;
  2. the number of persons involved in the channels of distribution of the goods or services; and
  3. the business circles dealing with the goods or services, to which that trade mark applies.

Section 11(8) of the Act provides that where a trade mark has been determined to be well-known in at least one relevant section of the public in India by any court of Law or the Registrar, the Registrar shall consider that trade mark as a well-known trade mark for registration under this Act.

CONDITIONS NOT NECESSARY FOR DETERMINATION AS A WELL-KNOWN MARK

Certain myths and misconceptions prevail that in order to be a well-known mark, the mark has to fulfil various other criteria- for example, it should be registered/used in India etc. However, Section 11(9) of the Act clarifies that for determination of a mark as a well-known mark in India, the following conditions are NOT necessary to be fulfilled:

  1. that the trade mark has been used in India;
  2. that the trade mark has been registered;
  3. that an application for registration of the trade mark has been filed in India;
  4. that whether the trade mark is well known in; or has been registered in; or in respect of which an application for registration has been filed in, any jurisdiction other than India; or that the trade mark is well-known to the public at large in India.

CONCLUSION

By making provisions for registration of well-known marks, India has made it easier for entities with well-known marks to safeguard their rights. As many other countries are still contemplating to bring about such legislations by this amendment India has definitely taken the lead here. Although a few organisations have questioned the validity of the provisions relating to registration of well-known marks, none has yet challenged them in a court of law. Proprietors of reputed brands now have an opportunity to register their marks as “well-known” marks in India in order to not only safeguard their marks against unauthorised and unlawful use but also to protect them from the risk of dilution by inferior product/services.  

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