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Names of Holy Books cannot be claimed as Trademarks: Supreme Court [Read Judgment]

Apoorva Mandhani
23 Nov 2015 4:56 PM GMT
Names of Holy Books cannot be claimed as Trademarks: Supreme Court [Read Judgment]
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Upholding a decision rendered by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R.K. Agrawal recently held that names of holy or religious books cannot be claimed as trademark for goods or services.

“There are many holy and religious books like Quran, Bible, Guru Granth Sahib, Ramayan etc., to name a few. The answer to the question as to whether any person can claim the name of a holy or religious book as a trade mark for his goods or services marketed by him is clearly ‘NO’,” the Bench observed.

The Court was hearing an appeal filed by Shri Lal Babu Priyadarshi, trading as M/s Om Perfumery, Bakerganj, Daldali Road, Patna, who made an application to the Registrar of Trade Marks to register a trade mark by name “RAMAYAN” for incense sticks (agarbattis, dhoops) and perfumeries etc.

Notice of Opposition was filed by a dealer for the sale of products of the appellant. He had claimed that the impugned mark, being the name of a religious book, cannot become the subject matter of monopoly for an individual.

The Opposition was dismissed by the Assistant Registrar of Trade Marks, holding that the impugned trade mark consists of device of crown and the word “RAMAYAN” is capable of distinguishing the goods. It was further noted that the word was not included in the list of marks not registrable under the Act.

However, the order was reversed by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board. Mr. Priyadarshi then approached the Supreme Court by way of a Special Leave Petition.

Mr. Priyadarshi submitted before the Apex Court that through extensive use, wide advertisement and the excellent quality of the products, the trademark “RAMAYAN” and the carton in which the products are sold has become distinctive in such a manner that use of the same or similar trademark or carton by any other person will cause confusion and deception in the trade and amongst the public. He claimed prior use, averring that he was using the Trademark since 1981.

He further submitted that the respondent, after the termination of dealership, started selling incense sticks under the trade mark “RAMAYAN” written in the same style and manner.

It was also contended before the Apex Court that the IPAB had misconstrued the observations of the Standing Committee in the Eighth Report on the Trade Marks Bill, 1993. Relying upon Clause 13.3 of the said report, it was submitted that even though the Committee had observed that “any symbol relating to religious gods, goddesses, places of worship should not ordinarily be registered as a trade mark”, it specifically refrained from prohibiting registration of such marks.

Opposing the registration, the respondent contended that the mark “RAMAYAN” is not a distinctive mark and is devoid of any distinctive character. The mark is not capable of distinguishing the goods of one person from those of another.

Ruling out the registration of the trademark, the Bench noted that in the photographs, after adding “OM’s” to the word “RAMAYAN”, at the top and in between “OM’s and RAMAYAN”, the sentence, “Three Top Class Aromatic Fragrance”, is also written. However, the appellant had not sought the registration of the word “OM’s RAMAYAN” as a trademark. Photographs of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman were also shown in the label, which the Court took as an indication that the appellant was “taking advantage of the Gods and Goddesses which is otherwise not permitted.”

““The word “RAMAYAN” represents the title of a book written by Maharishi Valmiki and is considered to be a religious book of the Hindus in our country. Thus, using exclusive name of the book “RAMAYAN”, for getting it registered as a trade mark for any commodity could not be permissible under the Act. If any other word is added as suffix or prefix to the word “RAMAYAN” and the alphabets or design or length of the words are same as of the word “RAMAYAN” then the word “RAMAYAN” may lose its significance as a religious book and it may be considered for registration as a trade mark,” the Bench ruled.

Read the Judgment here.

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