Procedure not subservient to substantive trademark rights

Procedure not subservient to substantive trademark rightsIn the recent case of TTK Prestige Limited v Baghla Sanitaryware Private Limited and Others, the Delhi High Court refused an application by the plaintiff to place additional documents on record under order XI rule 1(5) of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, as amended by the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.

The plaintiff sued Baghla in 2021 for infringing its trademark, Prestige, its copyright in the Prestige logo, passing off and unfair competition. The plaintiff’s case was that the defendants were engaged in the manufacturing and sale of baths, kitchen fittings, and accessories using the plaintiff’s registered trademark. The plaintiff later discovered that the defendants had registered the trademark Prestige in class 11.

The court granted an interim injunction restraining the defendants from selling, offering for sale and advertising any sanitaryware, bath and kitchen fittings, kitchenware or cookware under the disputed logo. The defendants filed a written statement, and the plaintiff sought replication. The defendants then successfully applied to file additional documents.

Thereafter, the plaintiff applied to place on record additional documents such as promotional material, certificates showing sales and promotional figures and unaudited statements of sales and promotional expenses. Some materials went back to 1959.

The plaintiff submitted that the defendants had not filed any supporting documents with their written statement and had filed them only after a year. Their application was allowed by the court because the trial in the present matter had not yet started. It further claimed the use of the trademark Prestige since 1955. When filing the present suit, the documentary evidence proving such use before 2007 was not readily available. Only after the defendants filed their statement claiming use since 2005 did the plaintiff search for old records, discovering that the relevant documents were in a district court case already finished. Relying on order XI rule 1(5) of the CPC, the plaintiff argued it had satisfied the test of having reasonable cause for the omission. No prejudice would be caused to the defendant as the trial had not commenced.

The defendants contended that the plaintiff’s application was belated and in bad faith. The plaintiff could not be allowed to adduce additional documents two years after its replication application without a valid reason. Negligence by the plaintiff in filing documents supporting its claim could not satisfy the test of reasonable cause under the CPC.

The court supported judicial authority that the CCA’s object was to ensure the speedy disposal of high-value commercial suits and early resolution. Since its enactment, deadlines and their elasticity had become strict and sacrosanct.

The court held that there had been a lack of diligence on the part of the plaintiff by failing to produce the additional documents despite several opportunities to do so. The plaintiff, being a company of repute, should have been diligent in protecting its trademarks. The court would not accept that the plaintiff had tried to find documents proving its use of the mark Prestige for more than two years after bringing the case. No prejudice was caused to the plaintiff by refusing its application, as it had filed voluminous documentation when bringing the case and additional documents in the replication application.

The issues in the present application were deadlines, compliance and the lack of reasonable cause. Reasonable cause for non-disclosure does not apply to documents that have been discovered after the case has been brought. Reasonable cause cannot be extended to negligence in filing additional documents but must necessarily be something beyond the control of the applicant that prevented them from filing the additional documents with the written statement. The commercial court is not required to entertain or allow applications for the late filing of documents without reasonable cause being established for the initial non-disclosure. Inadvertent errors in filing additional documents are not reasonable causes for failing to file additional documents with the plaint.

The court held that strict timelines must be adhered to in commercial cases. Parties applying for an injunction in trademark disputes cannot be tardy in putting together and filing their documents.

Authors: Manisha Singh and Malyashree Sridharan

First Published By: Law.Asia here