Bom HC | ISKCON, Infringement of well-known mark: Read why Justice G.S. Patel deferred grant of discretionary relief in view of past history which may materially affect the action

Bombay High Court: G.S. Patel, J., while addressing the present application expressed that:

“The very least a Court of equity expects when asked to grant discretionary relief is complete and honest disclosure of the relevant facts.”

It has been stated that the defendant – Vishna Foods Private Limited has been unauthorizedly using the well-known mark ISKCON. Plaintiff claimed complete proprietary rights over the said mark.

With the present interim application, the plaintiff claimed that the use of the mark ISKCON by the defendant is illicit.

Further in para 25 of the plaint, plaintiff acknowledged that the defendant attributed its use to a conceptualisation of an entity with the same name ISKCON in Bengaluru.

Para 25 of the plaint:

“…using the impugned mark ISKCON as also the line “conceived by the team of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON Bangalore” not only on the impugned goods but also on its website, the Defendant is wrongly suggesting and/or giving an impression and/or misguiding/misleading the customers and public at large that the impugned mark ISKCON has been used by the Defendant with the permission and/or under a license from ISKCON, Bangalore, which is a branch of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff is the owner of the trademark ISKCON and anyone much less any team from any branch of the Plaintiff does not have any right, power or authority to give permission or license to use the said trade mark ISKCON in any manner whatsoever.”

Paragraph 26 of the plaint only mentioned the pendency of some disputes in the Supreme Court. It did not mention that the Supreme Court constituted a committee under chairmanship of Mr Justice RV Raveendran, former Judge of the Supreme Court as chairman, with two additional members, one from each of the two contesting ISKCON units.

Mr Hiren Kamod for the Plaintiff submitted that the Bengaluru unit is a ‘branch’ of the Mumbai unit, which necessarily means that according to the plaintiff the Bengaluru unit has no independent existence.

Plaint did not disclose that the Bengaluru branch has set up an independent claim to use inter alia the name and to license it, or that the Bengaluru unit has been using the mark for a great many years.

Dr Saraf as instructed submitted that the ISKCON Bengaluru has been using the mark for a very long time and has in fact licensed Vishna Foods.

Mr Kamod agreed that plaint was silent of various aspects and it was further added that the Plaintiff checked ‘with the Supreme Court committee’ which confirmed that there was no license. Further, it emerged that the plaintiff had asked about the defendant from its own representatives on the Supreme Court-appointed committee.

There was no record in the plaint of any such question being addressed to the committee or its Chairman.

Bench on perusal of the above expressed that:

 If the Plaintiff did make such an enquiry, then it is hoist by its own petard, for its assertion that the Bangalore unit is only managing some temple and some properties is clearly untrue. Else, why would the Plaintiff even make such an enquiry?

Further, the court added that the fact that the plaintiff admitted to have made such an enquiry presupposes:

  • knowledge of the use of the mark by the Bengaluru unit; (b) possible licensing and history of licensing to third parties by the Bengaluru unit.

Facts in the instant matter involve and relate to the direct question of license, whether or not ISKCON Bengaluru is entitled to use the word mark and the label mark and to license it in the first place.

Adding to the above, Bench stated that it is not as simple as saying that Vishna Foods is an infringer and that its claim to have a license is false simply because ISKCON Bombay has a dispute pending in the Supreme Court allegedly restricted to a temple and properties with ISKCON Bengaluru.

“The very least I would have expected is a disclosure of the Supreme Court orders and then some record of this enquiry that I am now orally told has been made, or must have been made, or was probably made.” 

Court directed the impleadment of ISKCON Bengaluru and will hear the Interim Application on merits after the amendments will be effected and replies and a rejoined will be filed.[International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) v. Vishna Foods (P) Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 187, decided on 03-02-2021]

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