In an application for temporary injunction in a trademark suit between law firms Singh & Singh and Singh & Associates, Justice Endlaw of the Delhi High Court on 14th October ordered that Singh & Associates add ‘Founded by Advocate Manoj K. Singh’ below its logo to avoid confusion in the minds of litigants. Read the judgment here.
Any law student learning up case names in Criminal Law or Constitutional Law would have undoubtedly noticed that the name Singh is ubiquitous to an inconvenient extent (makes remembering cases that much harder when half of them involve ‘Singh’s). Fittingly, two reputed IPR firms, Singh & Singh and Singh & Associates are now battling it out in the Delhi High Court regarding who gets to keep their name!
The plaintiff is Advocate Pratibha Singh, founder of Singh & Singh. She brought a suit in front of the Delhi High Court against Singh & Associates, the proprietor of which is Advocate Manoj K. Singh. It was contended by the plaintiff that they are the sole registered owner of the word mark Singh and Singh, having coined the mark in 1997, and the name of the defendant’s firm is infringing of this trademark as it is similar. They also contended that the defendant was approaching foreign clients of the plaintiff in an “obvious effort to confuse the plaintiff’s client and divert work to the defendant”. Among the defendants contentions were that the name of the firm was only keeping with the tradition in the legal fraternity to initiate legal practice after the proprietor’s surname. They further contended that Singh & Associates had independently earned a significant reputation of its own, reducing any probability of confusion in the mind of litigants. Singh & Associates has been rendering services since 2002.
Justice Endlaw drew upon psycholinguistic studies such as Priming (“an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus”) and Freud’s theory of word association (where Freud concluded that one can completely misread words based on unrelated stimuli) to conclude that one is likely to misread “Singh & Singh” as “Singh & Associates” or vice versa. Interestingly, he also noted that the usage of autocorrect and predictive text in phones is also likely to aid in the confusion between the two names. He also added that the situation must be judged not only in the context of India (where people know that ‘Singh’ is a common name and will therefore be careful) but in the context of foreign clients as well, who may not exercise the same degree of caution.
While Justice Endlaw considered the effect of autocorrect, I must point out another technological tool that perhaps exacerbates the confusion- google! (Thanks for the idea, Swaraj). The top 5 results in a simple google search of ‘Singh + IPR’ exactly alternate between hits for Singh & Singh and Singh & Associates. A typical google user who just skims through search results would be very likely to confuse the two names.
The Judge ordered that pending the disposal of the suit, the defendant is to add ‘Founder Manoj K. Singh’ below the logo of the firm in all written communication, to reduce the likelihood of confusion. Further, he ordered that both the parties are restrained from indulging in any act that can be construed as misleading the clients of the other, and also, if one finds that a client approached them believing it’s the other, they must guide the client to the other.
The Honourable Justice remarked that he has arrived as this solution not with purely a legal approach, but with that of a father figure in a dispute between Advocates of the Court, as he alluded to the legal fraternity being “one large family”. The judgment ends with him imploring that the parties either agree to the above terms or find another mutually acceptable solution, instead of proceeding with the suit.
It looks like the plaintiff has won the battle of temporary injunction, but it remains to be seen which Singh will emerge King at the end of the war!
1 thought on “Which Singh is King? Two IPR Firms Take on Each Other in a Trademark Battle over Their Names”
What would happen if I were to practice as “JSagar”? (Not that I will.)