Living Media Ltd (“India Today Group”) had filed an application for interim injunction in front of the Delhi High Court restraining Alpha Dealcom from launching a news channel with the name ‘Nation Today’, contending that the latter’s usage over the word ‘Today’ infringed on their trademark over the same. The Delhi High Court held that there was no prima facie infringement as the usage of the word by the two parties was not likely to cause confusion in the minds of consumers. The decision was delivered on 19th February, and the judgment is available here.
India Today Group, as we all know, is the owner and publisher of the magazine ‘India Today’. Under its umbrella are also the news channels Headlines Today and Aaj Tak, business magazine Business Today, travel magazine India Today Travel Plus, and several other publications. In October, 2012, the plaintiffs found that the defendants had applied for registration of the trademark ‘Nation Today’ in June. The plaintiffs sued for infringement of trademark under S.29 of the Trade Marks Act.
The Contentions of the Parties
The plaintiffs argued that since they were the owners and trademark holders of several publications and a news channel whose names are variants of the name ‘Today’, the term ‘Today’ has acquired the status of a well-known trademark. They contended that the term ‘Today’ has become synonymous with the plaintiff’s goods and services, thereby acquiring a secondary meaning associated with them. They further contended that the trademark registered by the defendant is deceptively similar to that held by the plaintiff.
Interestingly, when the Plaintiffs had initially sought to register their trademark for ‘India Today’, they had argued in front of the Trademarks Registry that ‘India Today’ was dissimilar to the pre-existing trademark for ‘Punjab Today’. By this, the defendants argued, the plaintiffs had conceded that merely using the term ‘Today’ will not cause confusion or cause the competing mark to be similar to their own. The defendant’s second main argument was that ‘Today’, as a common English word is free to be used by third persons, and that the plaintiffs cannot monopolize such a common word merely by registering a large number of trademarks . It was emphasized such a monopoly would be detrimental to the news business, as ‘Today’ was descriptive to the news business itself. Their third argument was that the plaintiff’s trademarks were combination marks, thereby not conferring exclusive rights over the term ‘Today’ to them.
The Decision of the Court
The Courts decided in favour of the defendants, noting that the plaintiff’s admission earlier that Punjab Today was dissimilar to India Today worked against their favour in this instance. The Court also observed that in India Today, the visual emphasis was on the word ‘Today’ while in Nation Today, the font for the word Nation was larger and more emphasised. It was hence held that there was no prima facie likelihood of confusion. The Court also went on to cite National Bell Co. vs Gupta Goods Mfg. Co. (P) Ltd. & Anr., to opine that the fact that there were several other trademarks held by third parties with the word ‘Today’ which the Plaintiffs have chosen to ignore could amount to abandonment of trademark. With this, the application for temporary injunction was dismissed. It must be noted that the Court did not comment on the plaintiff’s argument that India Today was a ‘well-known trademark’, as not enough evidence in support of the same was produced at this stage.
This is a welcome decision, as conferring monopoly over a term like ‘Today’, which is so intricately tied to the news industry, would grant the trademark holder an unfair competitive advantage. If the Court ultimately holds that using the word ‘Today’ in the name of a news channel would constitute infringement, the precedent set would be that a company can deter potential competitors from entering the market by monopolizing generic words that are used commonly in their area of operation. This would be antithetical to the objectives of trademark law.
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Just an update: