Dispute Over Trademark ‘Khadi’

After turmeric and neem, it’s the turn of khadi. The government is preparing for a trademark battle over the hand spun fabric that was made a center piece of India’s freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi against a German Company.

The government has objected to Khadi Naturprodukte attempt to use the khadi trademark for selling a range of Indian-origin products, including shampoos, soaps and oils in European markets. The Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC), an arm of the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium enterprises, has sought cancellation of the trademark given to the company by for Harmonization in Internal Markets (OHIM), an organisation responsible for trademark and design registration in EU. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has urged KVIC to register the khadi brand for its range of products in the US and the EU.

The German Company is using the trademark for non-fabric products and to prove infringement, India will have to bring this case under trademark dilution. Dilution protects well known marks even when there is no confusion in regard to products. An application for Geographical Indication on khadi is also pending in India. Earlier this year, the Intellectual Property Rights Attorneys Association had applied for a GI tag for khadi products on behalf of all Indian producers; if granted, the GI on khadi will lead to cancellation of the khadi trademark for the fabric.

The Indian government has been successful in guarding India’s traditional knowledge against bio-piracy threats by defeating all efforts by multinationals to patent the uses of turmeric and neem among many others. In fact after facing attempts by foreigners to patent uses of neem and turmeric, India started maintaining a database in the form of a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. This has allowed it to pre-empt over 200 bio-piracy attempts globally. However the present dispute, involving a trademark, may be more complex to defend in absence of a trademark registration in Europe and US.