We are sure all of you might have read or heard about the recent Delhi High Court judgement citing that BharatPe prima facie does not infringe PhonePe trademark. But what is the judgement all about? Why did the two parties, ‘BharatPe’ and ‘PhonePe’, end up in the court? To understand the meaning and the implications of the judgement, we need first to understand the concept of Trademark and Trademark registration. Let’s start.
What is a Trademark?
How do you recognize a McDonald’s outlet from a distance? Imagine standing in front of a pizza store with no name, image, or sign. How do you figure if it’s a Domino’s or Pizza Hut? By looking at their famous signs, right? That is a trademark. The world around us is full of trademarks. They are unique signs, expressions, designs, or even pictures that help you differentiate one brand from another.
Trademarks are intellectual properties, meaning they are owned by the one who registers them and cannot be copied or misused by others. Trademarks and the rights thereunder are protected in India under the Trademarks Act 1999.
However, it is mandatory to obtain a Trademark registration to avail of the benefits and protection offered by trademarks. A Trademark registration expires in 10 years.
BharatPe Prima Facie Does Not Infringe PhonePe Trademark
Coming back to the case. In 2019, PhonePe had moved the Delhi High seeking damages and an interim relief against BharatPe for infringement of its trademark. It accused BharatPe of illegally using the suffix ‘Pe’ and using a logo similar in color and fonts.
However, on 27th April 2021, the Delhi Court, after considering all submissions made by the two parties, refused to issue an interim relief order against BharatPe. It remarked that ‘BharatPe’ and ‘PhonePe’ are both composite marks, and as such, PhonePe does not exclusively own the ‘Pe’ suffix.
The Judgement – Important Observations
The Delhi High Court order was passed by a single judge bench comprising Justice C Hari Shankar on April 15, 2021. In the order, the judge observed and held that PhonePe’s plea claiming the suffix ‘Pe’ had come to acquire a distinct and secondary meaning to the extent that consumers now associate the suffix ‘Pe’ with PhonePe only is a matter of trial. He stated that the evidence at hand currently is not sufficient to prove PhonePe’s claim. He further added that prima facie, it does not appear that BharatPe’s logo, in terms of color and fonts, is deceptively similar to PhonePe’s.
Implications of the Judgement
Justice C Hari Shankar relied on several past Supreme Court and Delhi High Court judgements and was of the opinion that a registered trademark cannot be broken down and claimed individually, except for a few circumstances that did not apply in this case.
Although the Delhi High Court refused to pass an interim relief in favour of PhonePe, it has directed BharatPe to maintain proper and accurate accounts of money earned using the ‘BharatPe’ trademark. It has also instructed BharatPe to file half-yearly audited account statements.
Speaking to the media, a PhonePe spokesperson said that the matter is still sub-judice in the Delhi High Court. The spokesperson also said that the order only related to their application for interim relief against the use of the suffix ‘Pe’.
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