Delhi High Court: Before proceeding with the matter, C. Hari Shankar, J., queried of Mr Vaidyanathan, respondent’s counsel, as to whether he had any objection to him hearing this matter as he was an avowed aficionado and, indeed, admirer of Agatha Christie. Counsel answered emphatically in the negative, asserting that he too was one.
Agatha Christie (1890-1976), fondly known as the “Queen of Crime”, needs no introduction.
She arguably was the greatest writer of books in the murder mystery genre, even and the best-selling fiction writer of all times as per the Guinness Book of World Records.
Agatha Christie Limited is the appellant before the Court, the company was established by Agatha Christie herself. Her great grandson Mr James Prichard is responsible for managing the company.
Appellant in 2017, filed an application for registration of the trademark “And Then There Were None”, the most famous work of Agatha Christie and one of the top selling books of all time.
Appellant sought to register the above under Classes 9, 16 and 41 of the Schedule to the Trademark Rules.
Impugned order came to be passed on 14-1-2021, rejecting the application.
Analysis, Law and Decision
The only ground on which the impugned order refused the registration of the appellant’s mark was that it was not distinctive.
High Court stated that ex facie, the impugned order could not be sustained either on facts or in law.
Bench failed to understand why “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was by any reckoning, not a distinctive mark, when see vis-à-vis the categories of services in respect of which its registration was being sought.
Further the Court stated that the impugned order did not allege that the mark, or any mark deceptively similar thereto, was ever registered, or even in use in respect of goods or services identical or similar to the marks in respect of which registration was sought by the appellant. Nor was there any allegation that the mark “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was descriptive of the services in respect of which its registration was sought.
“The Trade Marks Act, 1999, confers, as a matter of right, the right to register s trademark which does not suffer from any of the infirmities which the Act contemplates.”
High Court did not find any observation by the author of the impugned order that the name “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was not capable of being represented graphically or was capable of distinguishing the services being provided, or intended to be provided, by the appellant, from those provided or intended to be provided by others.
Bench also observed that,
“…name being the title of the most well-known work of fiction written by Agatha Christie, it is also capable, prima facie, of creating an association between the name and the appellant, which is a company established by Agatha Christie herself. It can, therefore, legitimately be used in the context of services which the said company provides or intends to provide.”
Trademark registration: Matter of right?
If the mark is distinctive, and is not identical or confusingly or deceptively similar to any earlier mark which is registered or in use from a prior date in respect of similar goods or services, or which results in the passing off, by the applicant, of its goods or services as those of another, registration of the mark is a matter of right.
Since the impugned order denied the registration without any due justification, the same needs to be set aside.
Elaborating further, the Bench added that the right to register a mark under which one intends to provide good or services is a valuable right, partaking of the character of article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
Hence, the appellant’s mark will be entitled to registration as sought in respect of the services under Classes 9, 16 and 41.
While allowing the appeal, Court remitted the matter to the office of the Registrar of Trade marks. [Agatha Christie Ltd. v. Registrar of Trade Marks, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 5331, decided on 8-12-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
For the Appellant: Ms Aamna Hasan, Vaibhav Vutts and Shrutika Misra, Advocates
For the Respondent: Harish Vaidyanatahan Shankar, CGSC with Bushra Kazim and Karan Chhibber, Advocates