Trademark Battle over ‘Khadi’

khadiIt has recently come to the notice of the Indian Government that a German company is using the term ‘khadi’ in its trademark.

Khadi, a special type of hand-spun cloth made in India was popularized by Gandhi as a symbol of self-sufficiency and Swaraj (self-rule) in the midst of the Indian National Freedom Movement.

The German company in question is ‘Khadi Naturprodukte’ which is in the business of selling various Indian-origin products such as shampoos, soaps and oils in Europe; incidentally, these are products which Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), an arm of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), sells in addition to fabric.

The company’s trademark is registered with Office for Harmonization of Internal Markets (headquartered in Belgium), which registers designs and trademarks in EU.

KVIC has sought cancellation of the trademark given to the German company. Further, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has urged KVIC to register the trademark ‘khadi’ in US and EU.

On its website, Khadi Naturprodukte mentions that it is exclusively marketing khadi cosmetics in Germany and throughout EU.

Although Khadi Naturprodukte is not selling fabric as of now, the company expresses its intention to add more products to its online shop. As pointed out by Prof. Shamnad Basheer, to make a strong case for KVIC and the Government, they must prove that KVIC’s products have been selling in the EU market under the trademark ‘khadi’ for a significantly longer time and that consumers associate the brand ‘khadi’ with KVIC.

KVIC which vied for an international presence in the past was granted the status of an export promotion council in 2013.

This is not the first instance of bio-piracy of Indian products by international players. Attempts have been made earlier by multinational companies to patent neem and turmeric. However, experts believe that the instant case might be more difficult to defend for India because it involves a trademark, which is a more complex issue as opposed to traditional knowledge in the case where neem and turmeric were being sought to be patented.

Professor Basheer also pointed out that one would have to determine the class of products for which the German company has been granted the ‘khadi’ trademark; he believes that in case where the trademark was sought for goods including fabric, it would make for a stronger case for India. If, however, the goods do not include ‘fabric’, it would be more difficult to prove infringement by the German company. This is because India has in the past granted around 80 trademarks for different products which do not necessarily belong to the same organisation.

For use of the trademark by the German company in relation to non-fabric products, India would have to prove infringement of the trademark on account of dilution of the mark.

An application for GI on khadi is also pending in India. Earlier this year, the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Attorneys Association had applied for a GI tag for khadi products on behalf of all Indian producers; if granted, the GI on khadi would lead to cancellation of the khadi trademark for the fabric.

In a bid to prevent bio-piracy attempts in future, the Indian Government had established a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) to provide information on traditional knowledge existing in the country.

The news of India pushing for cancellation of the German trademark comes at a time when the Centre has been mulling trademark protection for khadi. According to BH Anil Kumar, joint secretary in MSME, “A trademark would be a proof of authenticity and will provide legal protection too. We will create a distinct brand identity for khadi also, to attract buyers, especially the youth.”

Thanks to our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, who is oft seen endorsing khadi products, the popularity of khadi is on the rise among Indians again. Given that khadi has ceased to be a piece of cloth and has become a cultural symbol for India, it is hard for me to imagine that a German company could claim trademark over the word ‘khadi’.





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