Business Today

Protect or Perish

In businesses, big or small, ranging from manufacturing to music, the fight for intellectual property is getting intense. Neglect it and you could be out of business.

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: March 22, 2009

Grant stopped McDowell from using its distinctive stag and thistle logo on its bottles
A new intellectual awakening is one way to describe it. In the last five years, Indian firms have begun to realise that they simply cannot ignore issues surrounding the intellectual property rights (IPR) related to their firm. Across industries that range from Bollywood to pharmaceuticals, companies are contesting copyright, trademark or patent infringement issues in Indian courts like never before. “We have always been a creative country, but along with IP awareness, there is now a passion to own and possess our own IP,” says Pravin Anand, Managing Partner, Anand & Anand.

In today’s ultra-competitive, globalised corporate environment, a firm’s failure to adopt a comprehensive IPR strategy could prove to be a costly omission, either because its own brand or product can be infringed upon or that it might unknowingly launch a product or an idea already conceived and copyrighted by someone else. Equally important is the acknowledgement that an IPR strategy could be a crucial competitive tool for businesses today. “IP provides that edge, that innovative thrust required so much in these competitive times to possibly try to stay neck and neck, if not ahead of the competition,” says Rahul Chaudhry, Partner, Lall Lahiri & Salhotra.

Ram Gopal Varma had to drop “Sholay� from his remake’s title after being sued by the Sippys.
How so? An IPR strategy that includes a well-recognised brand or lucrative patent owned by the company can significantly boost revenues and profits. Moreover, for firms trying to raise money in the financial markets, the number and quality of intellectual property rights that the firm owns can dramatically enhance its valuations, say industry experts.

For companies like Bharti Airtel, whose corporate mission rests on the strength of its brand, issues surrounding intellectual property are taken very seriously. “IP counsel is sought in almost all marketing activity that’s undertaken today by most companies. This is to not just prevent the brand from being misused. Care also has to be exercised that marketers do not infringe upon one another,” says Sanjay Gupta, Chief Marketing Officer, Bharti Airtel. This philosophy has even percolated down to smaller firms anxious to remain in complete control of their brand identity. Luxor Writing Instruments, a Rs 300-crore business, which owns the rights for Parker and Pilot in addition to its own brand, is extremely vigilant on IP issues concerning their business: “We have registered our trademark ‘Luxor’ in 126 countries and have been active on IP front for the last 15 years,” says Puja Jain, Executive Director, Luxor Group.

  Case files
IPR judgments that have pushed the envelope.


William Grant v. McDowell & Co
Grant, the maker of prestigious single malt label Glenfiddich contended that McDowell had been copying its label imprint featuring a stag, which had become uniquely associated with it, as well as a thistle device which indicated the origin of its product (Scotland).

Verdict: The Delhi High Court granted an interim injunction restraining McDowell from dealing in alcoholic beverages marked “McDowell’s Single Malt Whisky” and from using packaging that was in imitation of the Glenfiddich label.

Whirlpool Corp v. N.R. Dongre
Whirlpool sued Dongre for using its name to sell products. An important question (in 1996) was whether Whirlpool could protect its trademark, when it was not present in the country.

Verdict: The Court decided in favour of Whirlpool and banned the Indian firm from using its name. It held that prior use of the Whirlpool trademark had a “spillover” effect in India.

Time Inc. v. Lokesh Srivastava
Time Magazine sued an Indian magazine printed in Hindi for copying its distinctive red-bordered cover design. Plus, the magazine’s title was “Sanskaran,” a transliteration of the English word “Time.”

Verdict: The Court ruled in favour of Time, and in one of the first instances of its kind in India, awarded punitive as well as compensatory damages. Total damages awarded included compensatory damages of Rs 5 lakh plus punitive damages amounting to Rs 6 lakh.

Warner Bros v. Harminder Kohli
Warner Brothers contended that the Hindi movie Hari Puttar was a trademark rights infringement of its Harry Potter series.

Verdict: Delhi HC ruled that despite any structural or phonetic similarities between the two titles, both an illiterate movie goer (more likely to watch Hari Puttar) as well as someone from the educated elite (more likely to watch a Harry Potter movie) are unlikely to confuse the movies with each other. Warner Bros lost the case.


Taj Television Ltd v. Rajan Mandal
Taj TV alleged that cable operators were illegally broadcasting the football World Cup 2002 while it had sole telecast rights.

Verdict: The Delhi High Court granted a “John Doe” type order for the first time, empowering a court-appointed commissioner to enter the premises of any cable operator illegally airing the World Cup. It soon allowed for a seizure of equipment from a cable operator in a similar, related case filed by Taj against Channel Communication.

Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India
Sculptor Amar Nath Sehgal claimed that the sculpture commissioned by the Government of India was damaged considerably. This violated his moral rights as the author of the art work, he said. These rights of the author are recognised and protected under the Copyright Act.

Verdict: The Delhi High Court, for the first time, awarded damages against the Government of India for violation of the moral rights of a famous sculptor. The government was directed to pay Rs 5 lakh to Sehgal and return the mural to him.

Kanungo Media v. RGV Film
Kanungo sued Ram Gopal Varma for infringing their rights of his own film also titled Nisshabd, which he claimed had won awards but had not been released in India.

Verdict: A court held that Kanungo had lost his chance to contest by approaching it just as RGV’s version was about to be released.


Bayer Corp v. Union of India
Bayer was granted a patent for Nexavar, a liver and kidney cancer drug. The firm became aware that Cipla had also filed an application for approval to market the same product in a generic version. Bayer sued to stop Cipla from marketing their drug.

Verdict:The court directed the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) not to give marketing authorisation to Cipla. The court appreciated the necessity of protecting patent rights even if the impugned product was not in the Indian market.

F. Hoffman La Roche v. Cipla
Roche filed a patent infringement suit against Cipla after it locally lauched Erlotinib (the generic version of Roche’s patented lung cancer drug Tarceva). Cipla filed a counter claim challenging Roche’s patent. The pricing of Tarceva came into focus as well as that it was not manufactured locally.

Verdict: In its interim order, the Delhi High Court has allowed Cipla to continue selling its generic version. However, it also directed Cipla to maintain accounts of sales, which would be relevant to calculate damages to Roche, in case the latter eventually wins the case.

BMS v. Hetero Drugs
Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMS) holds a patent for Dasatinib in India. It sued Hetero Drugs when it found that Hetero was seeking marketing approval for a generic version of Dasatinib.

Verdict: The Delhi High Court in its interim order (ex parte) has directed DCGI not to give marketing or manufacturing approval to generic drugmakers for drugs that have already been granted patents in India. This has prevented Hetero from manufacturing or selling its generic version. This case is a score for pro-patent groups. It also raises the question: Can a linkage be made between India’s Patent Office and the DCGI, which is mandated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to check only for safety and efficacy?

Warner Brothers unsuccessfully sued the makers of Hari Puttar for infringing on “Harry Potter�
Enhanced awareness of IPR has resulted in a plethora of cases of wide ranging variety (see Case Files) being battled out in Indian courts. India has seen a complex range of issues dealing with trademark, geographical indications, copyrights, trade secrets and patents, and top law firms admit that trademark infringement cases are fairly frequent and an aware firm usually tends to file at least 50 in a year. These cases reflect the changing economic environment in India, where businesses are waking up to the fact that their content is now king, and should be safeguarded. For instance, music companies have demanded double the royalty payments that FM radio stations pay them, in a major lawsuit filed against them. They are also insisting that the channels treat sound recording rights and rights in musical lyrics separately.

IPR Movement
A sampling of recent developments.

  • If the Trade Marks Act is amended, companies can join the Madrid Protocol and speedily register trademarks globally

  • A US Bayh-Dole-type act, which is in the works, is expected to speed up commercialisation of inventions

  • Efforts are on to create a digital library to record traditional knowledge like yoga

  • Move to amend IT Act 2000 to protect information theft, online fraud. Also includes right to privacy

  • The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers... Rights Act, 2001 passed - CSIR is trying to monetise its patents

Bollywood, more than most industries, has also been roiled by high profile cases that have brought both trademark and copyright issues into the public consciousness. Producer Ram Gopal Varma was intent on using the name “Sholay” in his re-make of the same 1975 epic but was effectively stopped from doing so by the Sippy family. He was forced to change the name to Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag. In fact, Varma was even prevented from using the names of the characters— Gabbar, Jai, Veeru and Basanti—in his re-make. Earlier, Varma was also sued by another filmmaker for using the title Nishabd, claiming that Varma had infringed on his own film that had the same title. The court ruled in favour of Varma, claiming that the plaintiff approached the court just as the film was about to be released, and was, therefore, too late.

Adding a new twist to the IPR landscape is the era of uber entrepreneurship, fueled by the boom in Internet-centric companies. Take the case of Jayant Agarwalla, who had launched the online game Scrabulous on popular networking site Facebook and was sued by Mattel. Mattel maintained that Agarwalla had copied both the board game as well as the accompanying rules. Also, Scrabulous infringed on the name of their product, said the US-based toy company. This proved to be a unique case as it involved both a copyright issue (copying of the Scrabble board) as well as a trademark violation (the name Scrabulous). The court eventually decided that the board, which was a three dimensional article, was not copyrightable and ruled in favour of Agarwalla. However, the court also found that Agarwalla’s Scrabulous was too close, phonetically and semantically, to Scrabble and he was disallowed from using the name.

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