Risks of adopting Gods’ names as Trademark

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Goodwill in a trademark is built over the years by making sustained investments into the brand. After having made these investments over the years, a trademark that cannot be enforced to the fullest desirable extent is certainly a setback. One such class of trademarks that has inherent limitations as to its enforceability are names of gods. Names of gods are commonly used as trademarks in a variety of businesses in India. While some of these trademarks may have been registered, others continue to be used as unregistered trademarks. Whether registered or unregistered, enforceability of such trademarks remains a challenge. We have analyzed a case concerning one such trademark, in which judgement was passed recently, to explore the angle of registrability and enforceability.

The Bombay High Court recently passed a judgement in a case between Freudenberg Gala Household Product Pvt. Ltd (hereinafter “Gala”) and GEBI Products (hereinafter “Gebi”). Gala started using a trademark “LAXMI” in respect of its product, brooms, in the years 1995. Gala subsequently applied for and obtained registration of the trademark “LAXMI” as a “label”. Notably, “LAXMI” is the name of a popular Hindu goddess. Gebi, on the other hand adopted the trademark “MAHA LAXMI” also in respect of brooms. “MAHA LAXMI” is another name of the same Hindu goddess “LAXMI”. The primary question before the Court was whether the registered label mark “LAXMI” was infringed by Gebi by the usage of the trademark “MAHA LAXMI” in respect of identical goods, brooms. The Court ruled in favor Gebi.

In this case, succinctly put, in-principle Gale contested that the scope of protection of its registered label trademark extends to the words within the label, and not just the label as a whole. Over and above that, since the word within the label is the name of a god, Gale sought monopoly over usage of name of a god as a trademark, expressed in whichever form, with respect to a certain class of goods.

It is well established that, where a label is registered as a whole, such registration cannot possibly give the proprietor of the trade mark exclusive statutory right over any particular word or name contained therein apart from the mark as a whole. Registrar of Trade Marks vs. Ashok Chandra Rakhit Ltd. The Court applied well established principles while dealing with label/device marks, to compare the registered label mark of Gale as a whole and the mark adopted by Gebi as a whole, to find that Gebi’s mark was not infringing on the label mark of Gale.

With respect to usage of name of gods, the Court prima facie found substance in assertion that names of gods are not exclusive and such words cannot be monopolized by one party. The Court further opined in the same context that claiming and protecting the label mark is different than to claim monopoly over a common word.

In conclusion, adopting names of gods as a trademark may be a risky proposition. Even if one has adopted such a mark, one may be able to register the mark as a label or device, and registration of the mark as a word mark as such may not be feasible. Further since exclusive statutory rights may not be claimed over such words, enforcement remains a challenge.

I hope the article was interesting.

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Best regards – Team InvnTree   

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

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