Delhi High Court: In a case wherein Plaintiff 1, Reliance Industries Ltd. alleged that its AJIO trade mark was being fraudulently used by various people to lure customers into depositing money for winning scratch card coupons to the tune of Rs. 7.5 lakhs and up to Rs. 10 lakhs, Prathiba M. Singh, J.*, opined that it appeared to be a large-scale operation carried out by unscrupulous individuals with the intention of collecting money under the name of ‘AJIO’ and ‘AJIO Online Shopping (P) Ltd.’. Thus, the Court granted an interim injunction restraining Defendants 1 to 6 and anyone acting for and on their behalf from using the mark ‘AJIO’ or in any manner sending any communications whatsoever to any customers or public for further collecting monies into any of the bank accounts including any fresh bank accounts to be opened by them.
The present suit had been filed by Reliance Industries Ltd. and Reliance Retail Ltd. seeking to protect the trade mark ‘AJIO’, its logo and other formative marks. Plaintiff 1 claimed to be the largest private sector company in India and was engaged in a wide range of business including textiles, polyester, energy, telecommunications, entertainment, and digital services. Plaintiff 2, Reliance Retail Ltd. was the Indian retail Company of Plaintiff 1 which was incorporated in 1999. The e-commerce platform of Plaintiff 2, www.ajio.com, was stated to be a business to consumer (B2C) platform launched in 2016 along with the mobile app ‘AJIO’ and on the said ecommerce platform consumers could order and purchase goods online directly from the Retailer.
The mark ‘AJIO’ both in word mark and in logo form/device mark and various brand extensions like AJIO LUXE, AJIO DHAN, AJIO SAMBANDHAM, AJIOMANIA, AJIO BUSINESS and WAJIO were registered in India since 2015 onwards. The plaintiff submitted that it came to know that several persons had fraudulently sent various communications under the name and style ‘AJIO Online Shopping Pvt. Ltd.’ with address of City Tower Complex Sasthitala Lane Atghara, New Town Kolkata, West Bengal-Bengal-700052 and the said letters had been issued to many customers across the country. Through these letters, the recipients were being lured into believing that the said recipients had won prize money along with a scratch card coupon. The said letter also mandated terms and conditions to be followed by the user to claim the prize and reward in the scratch card and the preparators of these scam/schemes then proceeded to collect money from innocent customers under the garb of payment of advance government taxes and processing fees.
The plaintiffs submitted that in some of the variants of the scam, the perpetrators made the recipient deposit sums in the range of Rs. 5,000, claiming that after the said deposit, the recipient would be eligible to encash the scratch card and the sums mentioned in the scratch cards were to the tune of Rs. 7,50,000 and up to Rs. 10,00,000. The prayer against the defendants was that the Defendants 1 to 6 ought to be immediately restrained from using the mark ‘AJIO’ or sending out any communications thereof and the bank ought to freeze the bank accounts and the mobile numbers ought to be blocked.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court after perusing the original letters received by various customers, opined that it appeared to be a large-scale operation carried out by unscrupulous individuals with the intention of collecting money under the name of ‘AJIO’ and ‘AJIO Online Shopping (P) Ltd.’. The letters and the scratch cards, etc., were so convincing that any customer or recipient would be unable to distinguish between the plaintiffs’ communications and those of the said entity or person.
The Court opined that owing to the familiarity and reputation of the AJIO name and brand, whenever any customer receives such letters accompanied with scratch cards purportedly issued by the plaintiffs, it was quite natural for such a customer to believe the same to be true. Thus, the request for deposit of some initial fees to be eligible to avail of the scratch card offer was quite a deceptive request, which might be acceded to. The large number of letters that appeared to have been received showed that there were several people and might even be entities who were working in close collaboration with each other to illegally make monetary gains. The Court also opined that it was also possible that bank accounts had been opened without giving the true name of the persons opening the same.
The Court held that the plaintiffs had made out a prima facie case for grant of an ex-parte ad-interim injunction and irreparable injury would be caused to the public if an order of injunction was not granted. Thus, the Court granted an interim injunction restraining Defendants 1 to 6 and anyone acting for and on their behalf from using the mark ‘AJIO’ or in any manner sending any communications whatsoever to any customers or public for further collecting monies into any of the bank accounts including any fresh bank accounts to be opened by them.
The Court directed Defendants 7, 8 and 9 to immediately freeze the bank accounts and shall file before this Court a complete statement of account for these bank accounts, from inception till date, including KYC details and any other information available with the respective banks. The Court also directed the telecom service providers i.e., Defendants 10 to 12 to immediately block all the mobile numbers and to place on record entire documentation available with them in respect of the identity of the individuals who had registered the mobile numbers. Further, the DoT was directed to issue blocking orders in respect of all these mobile numbers which shall be made non-operational with immediate effect.
The Court also directed the Cyber Cell, Delhi Police to investigate the entire matter, take action in accordance with the law on an urgent basis and file a status report on the next date of hearing.
The matter would next be listed on 25-09-2023.
[Reliance Industries Ltd. v. Ajio Online Shopping (P) Ltd., 2023 SCC OnLine Del 5527, decided on 06-09-2023]
*Judgment authored by: Justice Prathiba M. Singh
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Plaintiffs: Sidharth Chopra, Yatinder Garg, Angad Makkar, Raunak Das Sharma, Advocates
For the Defendants: Hetu Arora Sethi, ASC; Rajesh Ranjan, Advocate; Harish Vaidyanathan Shankar, CGSC; Srish Kumar Mishra, Sagar Mehlawat, Alexander Mathai Paikaday, Krishnan V, M Sriram, Advocates