INTEL, PEUGEOT, MICROSOFT, TIME INTERNATIONAL & CATERPILLAR, AMONG OTHERS, GO ALL OUT TO PROTECT BRAND IDENTITY

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INSIDE brand-conscious multinationals, the hunger for monopoly over identity rages on. For global brands, India is fast becoming a marquee destination and they are going all out to protect their brand identity. Last week, it was reported how Charlie Chaplin brought Indian marketers to book as Chaplin’s legal heirs slapped a legal notice on FMCG major Reckitt Benckiser’s Indian subsidiary for unauthorised use of the Little Tramp’s imagery in its famous Cherry Blossom shoe polish ad. Or for that matter, Danjaq LLC, the copyright owners of James Bond series of films, which sent a legal notice to Cadbury India two weeks ago, alleging infringement of James Bond character by Cadbury’s Gems Bond ad campaign. 

Now Intel Corporation, the $35-billion chipmaker, has opted for an out-of-court settlement with Indian dehumidifier maker Desiccant Rotors International (DRI) after four years of fighting a trademark violation case. The American IT major sued the Indian company for using the word ‘inside’ in its tagline, something Intel claimed was a violation of its ‘Intel Inside’ trademark.

“DRI operates in a separate category of goods altogether. However, Intel was trying to establish that its presence is all-pervasive and it should get a universal brand protection,” says Mr. Deepak Pahwa, chairman of Pahwa Enterprises, the parent company of DRI.

In response to a questionnaire, Intel said, “The Intel brand is one of the most valued brands in the world. Over the years, we have invested billions of dollars to create that value. Like any other asset, we have an obligation to our shareholders to protect that asset. We have no choice but to challenge infringements of our rights. However, Intel generally tries to amicably resolve disputes over the ownership of our trademarks.”

Retailers would have begged to differ with Shakespeare who questioned ‘What’s in a name?’ Wal-Mart took three NCR-based ‘Wal-Marts’ to court for trademark violation in the recent past. Starbucks too started seeing stars after beautician Shahnaz Hussain claimed she would open her Starstrucks cafes. “Retailers like Toys R Us and RadioShack have deployed their IP teams to scout for copycats and issue legal notices to them, even before they finalise their India foray plans. India, with its growing middle class, is considered an important market and these retailers are ensuring their legal tussles are sorted out before their entry,” says legal eagle Majmudar & Co managing partner Akil Hirani.

Multinationals realize that brands are a part of business asset and hold great value. “There’s a surge in infringement cases in auto components, hardware and even building material. However, I don’t see many Indian companies fighting for brand protection. The high legal cost is a huge deterrent,” says Pooja Dodd, IP practice head of legal firm, Fox Mandal.

Ms Dodd has her hands full with cases of infringement. Barring a case where an Indian website has filed for copyright infringement against a me-too, which claims to have offices around the world, all others are cases filed by MNCs against Indian companies. An international real estate firm is initiating legal proceedings against an Indian company for trademark violation, while another is suing an Indian firm for product patent infringement.

In the recent past, global firms such as Peugeot, Microsoft, Time International and Caterpillar, among others, have launched a full-scale copyright and trademark infringement war against violators from India.

Take the case of the Delhi High Court order that recently restrained the misuse of the marks ‘CAT’ and ‘Caterpillar’ for footwear in Caterpillar Inc vs Kailash Nichani case, or for that matter when in 2005, one Lokesh Shrivastava was made to pay damages to the tune of Rs 5 lakh to Time Inc owing to undue commercial exploitation resulting in loss of business to the rightful owner. In another landmark decision, delivered in the Microsoft vs Yogesh Popat case, Delhi High Court calculated the actual loss of business caused to Microsoft by Mr. Popat who was selling pirated software as ‘freeware’ with assembled computers. The court considered it violation of Microsoft’s trademark and copyrights and awarded the software major damages of Rs 19.7 lakh, the highest award for damages given by an Indian court for trademark and copyright infringement.

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