A recent CCI order (here) exposes the many dangers of ex parte interim injunctions in relation to IP matters. JCB was held to be abusing its dominant position as it was misusing judicial processes to curb competition.
Bull Smart Machines Pvt Ltd is a small scale industry engaged in manufacturing low cost loaders, a light construction equipment. Bull Smart filed a complaint before the CCI against JCB, India’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment. It was alleged that JCB was abusing its dominance by misusing judicial processes in order to exclude competition and deny market access to new entrants.
In order to establish dominance, the CCI identified the ‘relevant product market’ to be that of ‘backhoe loaders’. According to the commission, the market for backhoe loaders was a distinct market as no two construction/earthmoving equipment (whether heavy or light) could perform the same function and hence were not substitutable. Also, the ‘relevant geographic market’ was identified to be the whole of India. In this market, JCB had 75% market share and was therefore ‘super dominant’. Also, with its vast financial and other resources JCB could easily operate independent of competition. Therefore, the CCI held that prima facie, JCB is a dominant entity in the relevant market.
Abuse of Dominance
Bull Smart contended that JCB was abusing its dominant position by indulging in bad faith litigation. In 2011, Bull Smart participated in ‘Excon 2011 Exhibition’, India’s premier earthmoving machinery exhibition where it exhibited its new product ‘Bull Smart’ which was due to be launched in November 2011. At this exhibition, JCB restrained Bull Smart from displaying, launching, advertising, selling, offering for sale, its products based on an interim ex parte injunction it had obtained from the Delhi HC (here). The injunction was granted to JCB on the allegation that Bull Smart had infringed JCB’s design registration and copyrights of backhoe loaders.
It was contended that JCB obtained this ex parte interim injunction based on misrepresentation of images, design registration numbers and documents:
It is the case of the Informant that JCB obtained the ex-parte ad interim injunction order based on misrepresentation of images/design registration number/documents and bogus numbers, suppression of its pre-existing UK patent, misrepresentation by comparing the wrong angle of the images in the application and reliance upon fraudulent design registrations which were pre-existing in the public domain.
Bull Smart filed for vacation of the ex parte interim injunction, and a consent order was passed whereby the injunction was stayed and JCB sought to inspect ‘Bull Smart’ through their engineers to verify if any of its registered designs were infringed.
Surprisingly, 10 months later JCB withdrew it case and the interim injunction was vacated.
The Commission observed that predation through abuse of judicial processes was a threat to competition, particularly due to its relatively low anti-trust visibility. In view of the allegations projected in the information and as detailed hereinabove, the Commission is of prima facie opinion that JCB by abusing their dominant position in the relevant market sought to stifle competition in the relevant market by denying market access and foreclosing entry of ‘Bull Smart’ in contravention of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act.