Trademark controversy which “The Nation wants to know”

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An interesting debate has risen over the phrase nation wants to know. The phrase was used frequently by one of India’s most popular news anchors Arnab Goswami, while questioning his guests on a daily primetime live debate called Newshour, aired on Times Now channel owned by Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited (“BCCL”). Arnab later resigned to start a news channel called Republic TV, which is slated to launch in the coming days. According to news reports, Arnab has received a notice from his former employer asking him not to use the phrase on his news channel Republic TV alleging that the phrase is their trademark.

Interestingly, Arnab’s new company ARG Outlier Media Private Limited (“ARG”) has applied for trademark registration of the phrase the nation wants to know (application number – 3467425) and nation wants to know (application number – 3467428). On the other hand, BCCL has applied for trademark registration of the phrase nation wants to know and corresponding logo (application numbers – 3434199 and 3434201).   

Any IP practitioner would agree that getting trademark registration over the phrase nation wants to know for news services is an uphill battel. The phrase would likely be rejected on absolute grounds under Section 9(1)(c). As per said section, trademark registration should be refused if the trademark consists exclusively of marks which have become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade. There is absolutely no doubt that the phrase under consideration is customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the news industry.

Section 9(1)(c), however, provides an exception, which allows for registration of such phrases. For such phrases/marks to be registered, the phrase should have acquired a distinctive character as a result of its usage before the date of application for registration or the phrase should be a well-known trade mark. Therefore, one would hope that considering the might of BCCL and Arg, both would have framed a sound legal strategy at least to prove that the phrase has acquired a distinctive character as a result of its usage before the date of application for registration. However, the actions taken by both parties thus far only appear to indicate lack for strategy to further their cause.

BCCL had an excellent opportunity to prove that the phrase has acquired distinctive character as a result of its usage, since the phrase was constantly being used by Arnab, as its employee. However, BCCL, in their trademark applications has submitted that they “propose to use” the mark/phrase. In other words, BCCL is not asserting that they have already been using the phrase, but only propose to use the phrase. In view of this submission, it is unlikely that BCCL will be able to benefit from the exception of Section 9(1)(c), and will most likely be rejected trademark registration at least for news related services.

Arg’s strategy appears to be equally lackluster. ARG being a new entity, with its news channel yet to be launched, would in any case find it difficult to benefit from the exception of Section 9(1)(c), since they have not used the phrase to the extent required by Section 9(1)(c). Therefore, attempting trademark registration would be an effort without any favorable outcome. Nevertheless, there is no harm in filing for trademark registration. A more concrete and supplementary strategy would be for Arnab to assert that he has personality rights over the phrase, since “nation wants to know” is widely considered as Arnab’s style of questioning his guests on TV debates. However, Arnab in his open audio response on YouTube purportedly to BCCL says “Every Indian has a right to use that phrase. And this phrase comes from the heart. Every Indian, through his or her questioning spirit, can use the phrase Nation Wants to Know”.

With this response, Arnab, one of the directors of ARG is in effect appears to be submitting that the phrase has no distinctive character, and hence cannot be a trademark, and more importantly, he submits that he does not have any personality rights over the phrase, which is a way may have a more devastating effect in establishing rights over the phrase.

In conclusion, while the tussle over the phrase “nation wants to know” is interesting, this article tries to draw a broader picture of trademark strategy, and the finer details that can change the course of outcome.

We hope this article was a good read. 

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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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