Today we have a guest post from Mr. Arun Mohan, our long-time friend and litigating lawyer at the Madras High Court. He writes on the recent order of the Delhi High Court restraining German automobiles maker Audi from using the ‘TT’ trademark in India.
A Brief Revenge
In law school, the most oft-quoted case in discussing a ‘well known’ mark was the Benz vs Hybo Hindustan case, which saw Mercedes injunct a underwear manufacturer from using a model striking a pose along with the use of the word ‘Benz’ for selling underwear.
Oh how the tables have turned! In an ironical twist, as reported here, TT Industries which appears to be a manufacturer of hosieries and underwear has obtained an ex-parte injunction against Audi from using the mark ‘TT’ in respect of accessories, bags, leather and faux leather goods, or toy cars. The mark ‘TT’ as used by Audi is in respect of a rather high-end sports car, and the accompanying accessories which are often sold based on the aspirational value of such cars. The brand ‘TT’ has been used by Audi since 1998 internationally, and has been selling the car in India for well over a decade. Strangely, the injunction does not seem to be against textile products which would have logically been the pet grievance of the plaintiff, rather it appears to be against products such as ‘toy cars’ and ‘bags’ in which the plaintiff appears to have no interest. It would also be seen how the plaintiff would justify taking action against these goods but having no quarrel with the car itself, which in turn can claim trans-border reputation given its admitted international success. The difficulty with pursuing the ‘famous mark’ basis for launching action is the all or nothing approach, as in such cases the plaintiff would have to assert itself being the sole proprietor of the mark to the exclusion of all others for all purposes. The doctrine does not allow for picking and choosing of what is the appropriate cause of action, which appears to be the approach of the plaintiff herein.
Apart from the obvious twist in the tale of seeing a supercar slayed by skivvies, such matters bring a refreshing perspective to intellectual property litigation. The fact that TT Industries can claim to be a famous mark to the extent of debasing Audi’s use of the mark in India for over a decade establishes the confidence seen in Indian companies in thrusting and protecting their intellectual property even against international behemoths.
The outcome of this case would definitely be interesting. It is to also to be considered that TT Industries has in the past failed to obtain orders of injunction against Chennai based TT Enterprises which was using the mark in respect of financial and travel related services, a matter which I believe would have significant impact in this case. Nonetheless, such delicious ironies in law are few and far apart, and for now the battle between automobiles (especially high end German ones!) and innerwear stands at 1-1.