The saga between Financial Times Ltd. (FTL) and Times Publishing House continues with the Supreme Court hearing the case for the first time in 19 years. As reported by the Mint, FTL filed a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court in 2011. The SLP was filed in order to obtain an adjournment of the appeal proceedings in the Karnataka High Court in connection with its ongoing trademark battle with Times Publishing House. In order to provide context, please read SpicyIP posts here, here and here which have closely and comprehensively followed this battle.
Image from here
On 6th February 2013, the Apex Court bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India- Justice Altamas Kabir, granted adjournment of proceedings in the Karnataka High Court. As reported by mint, this order was given in order to ensure that until the appeal before the Supreme Court was heard and until the validity of each party’s trademark was determined, any related trademark appeal before the Karnataka High Court is to be stayed.
This trademark saga throws light on the problems and obstacles foreign companies have to face when trying to enter the Indian market (in this regard also read post here and here). After the Government’s green signal in 2009 to foreign direct investment in printed publications, FTL incorporated an Indian entity called The Financial Times (Pvt.) Ltd. and applied to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to bring out facsimile editions of Financial Times under the titles “Financial Times Facsimile” and “FT Weekend Facsimile”. It is further reported that the Registrar of Newspapers for India issued title verification letters for these titles in favour of the Indian corporate entity floated by FTL.
Thereafter and almost immediately, as reported, TPH initiated legal proceedings against FTL, first in the Delhi High Court and then in Bangalore. The Delhi High Court did not grant any relief to TPH, however, the Karnataka High Court granted a stay preventing FTL from bringing out its facsimile editions. Against this order, FTL has moved the Supreme Court, challenging the jurisdiction of the Karnataka High Court.
Mr. Harish Salve, lawyer for FTL, replied to certain questions posed by mint in relation to the on-going dispute and its fate before the Supreme Court. According to Mr. Salve, as reported, the tactic employed by TPH of dragging litigation for 19 years was an example of ‘clever lawyering’ as it ensured delay of FTL’s entry into the Indian market thereby preventing competition. He was of the opinion that given FTL’s international repute, TPH by adopting the same title “can fairly be presumed to be with the intention to use the reputation of FT in their own publications.”
Some others have strongly commented here, that TPH’s preoccupation with the UK company’s title ‘defies explanation’ and is almost ‘obsessive’ since their circulation is and will be much wider than that proposed by FTL.
This case before the Supreme Court comes at a time when the British Prime Minister is scheduled to visit India (18th February 2013). As reported, hectic lobbying is currently underway with John Makinson (CEO of Penguin International) and Khozem Merchant (President of the Pearson India Group), making representations of their views on the matter to Manish Tewari (I&B Minister). Representations have also been sent by the UK publisher to the Prime Minister.
The effect of this visit, such lobbying and the fate of the case before the Supreme Court can be speculated, but what comes out clearly from this 19 year battle is no matter what the effect of the visit, of the lobbying or of the decision, no clear winner can emerge because both sides have already spent, as reported, approximately Rs. 30 crore in legal fees over a period of 19 years. This also sets a bad precedent for foreign media companies wanting to operate in India.
Though the Wal-Mart and alleged IKEA trademark infringements are of a smaller scale, one can surely conclude that namesake trouble with regard to foreign companies is becoming a regular affair in India.