“The notion that ordinary people want black-robed judges and well dressed lawyers and fine courtrooms as settings to resolve their disputes is not correct. People with problems, like people with pains, want relief, and they want it as quickly and inexpensively as possible.” (J. Warren Burger)
The situation at the five Trade Mark Registries appears to be far from ensuring speedy and effective relief to trademark applicants/opponents/registrants. As of 2012, as detailed by Prashant Reddy in his blog post here, there were a total of 135,874 oppositions and rectifications pending before the five Trade Marks Registries. Added to this, there were only 15 Registrars who were tasked to deal with these 1,35,874 trademark oppositions and rectifications.
Evidently, the Registry is overburdened and in welcome attempt to address the issue of pendency, the Trade Mark Registry (Delhi) has decided to undertake a pilot project, in collaboration with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), whereby 500 pending oppositions/rectifications will be referred to mediation/conciliation based on consent by the parties involved and as per the mediation/conciliation Rules framed under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 (here and here). This decision certainly marks the onset of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms for resolving intellectual property rights disputes in India.
This decision opens another avenue for parties to resolve their disputes in a speedier manner. As per the Mediation and Conciliation Rules, 2004, parties can agree to a sole mediator and in case they are unable to agree the court (in this case the registrar) may appoint a mediator/conciliator. The nature of opposition and/or rectification proceedings may lend themselves to mediation/conciliation as the law in these matters is more or less settled leaving parties to understand and negotiate based on facts and come to flexible and mutually acceptable solutions. As per the decision in the Afcons infrastructure case, when a matter is settled through conciliation, the settlement agreement is enforceable as if it is a decree of the court having regard to Section 74 and Section 30 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. However, since the Registrar retains control over the matter, the settlement may have to be placed before the Registrar for recording and disposal.
The data available on the DSLSA website, gives us a general idea of the rate of disposal of cases at least by the Lok Adalats at the DSLSA – the Permanent Lok Adalats (which deals only with public utility service disputes) seems to be the most efficient as out of 2614 cases received in 2015, 2605 cases have been disposed off i.e. almost 100%. The National Lok Adalat, which is held at all levels – taluk up to the High Court, that deals with various kinds of civil, matrimonial, debt, etc. disputes has reportedly settled around 1.53 lakh cases in a day. However, the ordinary continuous Lok Adalats that also deal with various kinds of civil matrimonial, debt cases, report a lower rate – out of a total of 92590 cases, number settled were 60656 in 2014.
Even if only a small number of disputes that are referred to mediation are settled, the Registry will still be relieved of that per centage of cases with nominal expenditure of institutional resources and costs. However, a larger reduction in pendency may only be possible if, together with this option of mediation, the issue of under-staffing is resolved.