Supreme Court rules no trademark over religion or deities!

praying-hands-1179301India is a country having an abundance of culture, people and traditions. The genre of religion in India has always amassed eyebrow raising controversies in the past and continues to do so in the present as well. Tussles have always existed between people righteously propagating the theory of freedom of expression and people expressing religious sentiments otherwise, at times leading to people/society taking offence to such an extent that the whole matter embroils into a casket.

Religion, in particular is something which is very personal to most human beings who vehemently guard it and nine of ten individuals in every corner of this world lives and breathes on religion. The latest ‘Charlie Hebdo’ incident in Paris, France is testament to how gruesome a response can be, in the name of religion, to a cartoon depicting gods, goddesses, deities and religions.

Recently in the case of, Lal Babu Priyadarshi vs Amritpal Singh,[i] the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, clearly expressed that no one could claim trademark over Gods/Goddesses/Deities or religious books like the Holy Quran, Holy Bible, Guru Granth Sahib, Ramayana, etc. over goods or services.[ii] They further explicitly mentioned that names of religious books could not come under the purview of the subject matter of monopoly for any individual.[iii]

In the above dispute, the plaintiff had applied for a trade mark by the name of ‘Ramayan’ pertaining to incense sticks and perfumeries under goods and services applied for. The defendant, who was a dealer for the sale of the products for the plaintiff here, opposed this application under various provisions of the Indian Trademarks Act, 1999.[iv] The defendant further added that claiming trademark over the said mark, bearing the name “RAMAYAN” with the device of crown, could not be registered as it was the name of a religious book and went against the already enshrined laws of the Act.[v]

The apex court accepted the defendant’s claim and rejected the plaintiff’s choice of name, further announcing the verdict that “the word ‘Ramayan’ represents the title of a book written by Maharishi Valmiki and is considered to be a religious book of the Hindus in our country. Thus, using exclusive name of the book ‘Ramayan’ for getting it registered as a trademark for any commodity could not be permissible”.[vi] Further reference was made to the evidence in fact as to how the plaintiff was using pictorial depictions of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana shown in the impugned mark and other marks used by him, taking it as a malafide intention to gain monetary/monopolistic benefit, using pictorial depiction of Gods and Goddesses, otherwise prohibited and unauthorized by law.[vii]

In lieu of this dispute the apex court also referred to Report 8 on the Trade Marks Bill, 1993,[viii] wherein the Committee articulated the opinion that any symbols related to Gods, Goddesses, places of worship, et al, were not to be accorded trademark protection or registration. Furthermore they noted that the Committee did not harbour the opinion with the intention of disturbing existing trademarks within the market or trade by way of barring their registration as this would tantamount to disarray in the market, and instead had full faith in and entrusted the Government to initiate suitable action if such situation arose when a particular trade mark hurt or was plausible to hurt religious proneness.

This judgement brings to light the fact as to how people with the sole intention of profit making take existing laws for granted and fall into the tangles of infringement of intellectual property.

[i]Lal Babu Priyadarshi vs Amritpal Singh, 2015(12), SCALE 76, decided on Oct. 27, 2015.

[ii]Ibid, at ¶ 18, Pg. 7.

[iii]Ibid.

[iv] Sections 9, 11(a), 11(b), 11(e), 12(1), 12(3) and 18(1) at 2 (b), Indian Trademarks Act, 1999.

[v]Ibid.

[vi]Id at 3, ¶15, Pg. 6.

[vii]Ibid, Pg. 7.

[viii]Submitted by the,Parliamentary Standing Committee, Apr. 21, 1994.

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