Del HC | Are trademark disputes arbitrable? Court interprets S. 8 of Arbitration Act; differentiates between rights emanating from Trademark Act and Trademark Agreement

Delhi High Court: Jayant Nath, J., observed that the assignment of the trademark is by a contract and not by a statutory act. It does not involve any exercise of sovereign functions of the State.

Defendant filed an application under Section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Master Long Term Supply Agreement 

Plaintiff submitted that the parties had entered into Master Long Term Supply Agreement by which the defendant on an exclusive basis had supplied to the plaintiff exclusive brands of the defendant “Golden’s Gold Flake, Golden Classic, Taj Chhap, Panama and Chancellor”.

The above-stated brands were being sold, supplied and distributed exclusively in the domestic and international market.

Trademark Agreement and Amendment Agreement

Later, plaintiff entered into a trademark agreement and amendment agreement and was granted exclusive non-assignable, non-transferable license to manufacture the defendant’s product to be manufactured exclusively at the plaintiff’s factory at Noida and were to be marketed and distributed.

Plaintiff submitted that despite huge capital and operational expenditure made by the plaintiff to increase the availability of defendant’s product, the defendant arbitrarily cancelled the trademark license agreement.

A termination notice by the defendant was issued. Since the commercial production had not started the agreement was terminated with immediate effect.

By another termination notice, the defendant company stated that timely payment was not made in terms of the agreement and hence plaintiff was to have no right to manufacture and sell the exclusive brands of the defendant in the market from that point onwards.

In view of the above-stated circumstances, the present suit was filed.

It was prayed that the disputes between the plaintiff and the defendant raised be referred to a sole Arbitrator.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Bench firstly noted the legal position by referring to Section 8 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act, further Supreme Court’s decision in Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation, (2021) 2 SCC 1, was referred.

As per the above decision, actions in rem including grant and issue of patents and registration of trademarks are exclusive matters falling within the sovereign and government functions and have erga omnes effect. Such grants confer monopolistic rights, and they are non-arbitrable.

Further, reference to the decision of the co-ordinate Bench of this Court was made in Hero Electric Vehicles (P) Ltd. v. Lectro E-Mobility (P) Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1058 as it applies on all fours to the facts of the present matter.

Court held that the dispute did not pertain to infringement of a trademark on the ground that the defendants are using a deceptively similar trademark. The ground was that the right to use the trademark was conferred by a particular agreement on a particular group of the family. Even if the plaintiff in that case were to rely on any provisions of the Trademark Act the essential infraction as allegedly committed by the defendant was not the provisions of the Trademark Act but the provisions of the agreements in question. The dispute which emanates out of the agreement between the parties was held to be arbitrable. The court also clarified that the controversy in the said case did not relate to grant or registration of trademarks. The said trademarks stood granted and registered. It was also held that assignment of a trademark is by a contract and is not a statutory fiat. It does not involve any exercise of sovereign functions.

Primarily the crux of the issue was that the dispute was relating to interpretation of the terms of the Trademark Agreement and amendment agreement executed between parties and whether the termination of the said agreements by the defendant and cancellation of the assignment of the trademark in favour of the plaintiffs was legal and valid.

“right that is asserted by the plaintiff is not a right that emanates from the Trademark Act but a right that emanates from the Trademark Agreement and the amendment agreement.”

In the present matter, Bench held that it cannot be said that the disputes are not arbitrable.

In view of the above discussion, the application was allowed. [Golden Tobie (P) Ltd. v. Golden Tobacco Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3029, decided on 4-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the plaintiff: Mr. Kailash Vasdev, Sr. Adv. with Ms. Priyadarshi Manish and Ms. Anjali J. Manish, Advs.

For the Defendant: Mr. Sumeet Verma, Mr. Vijay Kumar Wadhwa and Mr. Maninder Pratap Singh, Advocates.

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