Copycat menace rises for heritage brands

Copycat menace rises for heritage brands.

Brands must innovate regularly to remain relevant and dynamic and defy the attempts of smaller businesses that keep implementing cunning marketing methods to capitalise on their equity and goodwill.

It not only confuses consumers when third parties and small businesses use brand names that are confusingly close to legitimate ones, but it also increases the risk of counterfeit goods, which may cost the most prominent corporate organisations a lot of money.

For instance, in a recent trademark battle, Amul went to court to protect its trademark and stop another company from using the same brand for a non-competing product—candles. While in a different example, Tata Sons recently filed a lawsuit for infringement against foreign trading companies HakunaMatata Tata Founders and Tata Bonus, who were selling a cryptocurrency known as Tata coin. 

“Amul has been conferred the status of a well-known brand (according to law), so no entity can register it in any category. We have to keep up with policing efforts and take action continuously to weed out the violators,” claimed R S Sodhi, the Managing Director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which sells dairy goods under the Amul brand.

claimed R S Sodhi, the Managing Director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which sells dairy goods under the Amul brand.

According to legal experts, the recognition of “well-known” trademarks is a significant intellectual property right that a business acquires for its goods or services after broad and extended use and associations with reliability and quality in consumers’ views. The Amul brand, famous for its range of dairy-based goods, is renowned for its dependability, quality, and consistency. According to them, depending on the products they want to sell or the services they wish to provide using this brand, enabling such unaffiliated parties to misrepresent and deceive the general public could have serious repercussions.

Leading corporate groups like Godrej and Mahindra & Mahindra, as well as businesses from many industries, including Honda Motors, Biocon, Asian Paints, Mother Dairy, HUL, Castrol, and Boroline, have also been dealing with similar problems. The majority of products that are infringed upon are fast-moving consumer goods, such as alcohol, salt, soaps, detergent powder, and fast-moving foods like biscuits. According to a survey, the prevalence of fake and counterfeit goods ranges from 2-15% in tier-1, -2, and -3 markets.

There are some parties who wilfully seek to utilise well-known trademarks as their own openly. When detected, they argue that there is no prohibition on using the owner’s brand in relation to a different product because it is for additional items. An industry analyst claims that given the party’s desire to immediately improve its financial position and capitalise on the goodwill of the well-known brand, it is clear that such adoptions are carefully considered. Suhrita Majumdar, a partner at the law firm S Majumdar & Co., stated, “Due diligence ought to be undertaken before using/applying for a business name/trading name and also a trade mark. Courts continue to acknowledge rights of an entity in its well-known trademarks even in respect of dissimilar/unrelated goods or services. However, after the Trade Marks Rules, 2017, the Trade Marks Office adopted the practice of recognising marks as well-known in respect of specific goods/services, which is contrary to the legal provisions. From the enforcement point of view, such recognition in respect of specific goods/services could be a deterrent, considering that third-parties would presume that such mark is free for adoption/use in respect of dissimilar/unrelated goods/services, defeating the purpose of the Act.” 

“We are very vigilant to protect the brand and IP against infringement. We also carry out criminal raids against counterfeit products carrying our brand names. Sometimes, certain group companies have approached the courts for blanket/collective orders for such infringers/ counterfeiters,” according to a Tata Group lawyer.

In addition, corporations who suspect cross-border infringement protect their brands in other regions and pursue legal action against violators through the proper channels of commerce or local offices.

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