Trademark of a product or service distinguishes it from other similar products and services. Trademarks are used for brand building and advertisements. They play a significant role in market driven economies, which operate with world economy. It has been often observed that large shares of markets are owned by few leading brands. This results in monopoly. In countries that have weak trademark laws, the market may be flooded by foreign brands that give tough competition to domestic brands. Some of the famous foreign trademarks in India are Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Volvo, Mercedes Benz and Coca-Cola.
Registration of trademarks in India was earlier governed by the Trade Marks Act enacted by the British Government in 1940. The Act was later replaced by the Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958. At present, trademark registration in India is regulated by the Trade Marks Act, 1999.
In a landmark case, Milmet Oftho Industries & Ors v. Allergan Inc, the Supreme Court extended the protection guaranteed under trademark law in India to a well-known foreign brand. The court restrained an Indian company from using the mark OCUFLOX. The court judgment was given irrespective of the fact that the U.S. company has neither used the mark in the Indian market, nor the mark was registered in India.
Justice S.N. Variava referred to earlier judgments of the Supreme Court in the famous Cadilla Healthcare case where the Court held that in the fields of healthcare and medicine, all possibilities that may create any confusion in a consumer’s mind should be avoided. Justice Variava held that all possibilities of deception and confusion should be prevented; keeping in mind that public interest is not jeopardized. Also, doctors, medical professionals, other professionals and companies in the healthcare industry were advised to keep themselves updated about latest developments in medicine, attend medical conferences, symposiums and lectures on regular basis and share such knowledge in the field.
The court further stated that permission for registration of a trademark should be granted based on who entered first in the market. The marks are identical in this case. The respondent’s pharmaceutical product was already being advertised across the world. Finally, the court held that the respondent in this case was the first enter to the market and adopt the mark. Also, the fact that the respondent has not used the mark in India is insignificant, if they were the first to enter the world market.