India: Registration Of A Trademark Assignment: Mere Formality Or A Mandate?

Introduction

With the advent of technology and newer trends of merchandising and marketing, the protection of an intellectual property of a person has become a dire need of the day. Consequently, the title related to a trademark is also a quintessential of it. This title can be transferred to another person or legal person through assignment, merger, transmission etc.

As per the provisions of the Trademarks Act, any person who is getting a title on any trademark by way of assignment or transmission shall bring himself on records of the Trademarks Registry as the proprietor of the trademark by making an application in the appropriate form with the appropriate fee. Now, the question which arises here is that what will be the status and position of an Assignee who has not made an application for registering himself as the proprietor of the trademark or whose application for such a registration is pending before the Trademarks Registry? While taking actions against third parties for infringement or passing off of its trademark, Should he be allowed to enter into the shoes of the Assignor by virtue of the assignment deed? Or should he be restrained form taking any such actions as he is not the proprietor of the Trademark as per the records of the Registry? The question has been discussed in detail below under various heads-

Procedure Relating To The Registration Of Assignments And Transmissions:-

Assignment of a trademark occurs when the ownership of a mark as such, is transferred from one party to another whether along with or without the goodwill of the business. Assignment agreements pertain to the transfer of intellectual property rights from, the owner of the rights to another person or organization. Assignment is an important aspect of this act, as per the section 2(1) (b) of the Trademarks Act, 1999; assignment has been described as "an assignment in writing by act of parties concerned". Thus this clarifies that for the assignment of trademark, it is necessary for the agreement to be in writing and to be act of an assignor and assignee of their own volition and not a third party.

Further, in case of registered Trademarks, the Trade Mark Act 1999 under section 40 also puts certain restrictions on the assignment of a registered trade mark wherein there exist possibilities of creating confusion in the mind of public/users. Such restrictions are:

  • Restriction on assignment that results in the creation of exclusive rights in more than one person with respect to the same goods or services, or for same description of goods or services or such goods or services as associated with each other.
  • Restriction on assignment that results in different people using the trademark in different parts of the country simultaneously.

Discretion Provided To The Registrar Under Section 45 (2) Of The Trademarks Act, 1999-

As per section 45 of the Act, an assignment deed needs to be registered in the appropriate form with the Trademarks Registry in order to bring the Assignee as an owner of the trademark on records. The Section runs as follows-

(1) Where a person becomes entitled by assignment or transmission to a registered trade mark he shall apply in the prescribed manner to the Registrar to register his title. And the Registrar shall on receipt of the application and on proof of title to his satisfaction register him as the proprietor of the trade mark in respect of the goods or services in respect of which the assignment or transmission has effect, and shall cause particulars of the assignment or tranmission to be entered on the register. Provided that where the validity of an assignment or transmission is in dispute between the parties, the Registrar may refuse to register the assignment or transmission until the rights of the parties have been determined by a competent court.

(2) Except for the purpose of an application before the Registrar under sub-section (1) or an appeal from an order thereon, or an application under section 57 or an appeal from an order thereon, a document or instrument in respect of which no entry has been made in the register in accordance with sub-section (1), shall not be admitted in evidence by the Registrar or the Appellate Board or any court in proof of title to the trade mark by assignment or transmission unless the Registrar or the Appellate Board or the court, as the case may be, otherwise directs.

As per the provisions of Section 45 and Rule 68 of the Trademarks Act, 1999, an application to register the title of a person who becomes entitled by assignment or transmission shall be made in Form TM-24 or TM-23 as it is made by such person alone or conjointly with the registered proprietor. Further, as per the practices of the Indian Trademarks Office, an affidavit for no legal proceedings pending related with the trademarks which are subject of the merger is also to be filed on behalf of the transferee company. Now, in case of a merger, since a proprietor registered on record is no more in existence and hence an application for change in title shall be filed in the name of the transferee. The Registrar may require statement of case to be verified by an affidavit on form TM 18 and may call upon the person concerned to furnish such proof or additional proof of title as he may require for his satisfaction. On proof of title to his satisfaction, the registrar will register him as a subsequent proprietor of the trade mark in respect of the goods or services and shall cause the particulars of the assignment or the transmission to be entered on the register. Once the trademark is assigned with goodwill, the assignor cannot in the eyes of law have any interest in the trademark assigned and the assignee alone, as a person interested in the trademark assigned, can represent in opposition proceedings as a party to protect its interest.

Position Of A Non-Registered Assignee In India

The law empowers the registrar to refuse to register the assignment or transmission when the validity of an assignment or transmission is in dispute between the parties, until the rights of the parties have been determined by a competent court [section 47 (2)]. The Registrar's refusal to register the assignment or transmission will naturally arise only before the actual change is effected in the register. The assignor or any other person may complain that the assignment is invalid or that it has been procured from him under circumstances entitling him to repudiate that transaction. In such circumstances the registrar cannot be expected to decide upon the validity of the assignment where it is challenged before him.

In Radhakashan Khandelwal vs. Asst. Registrar of Trade Marks1-The Delhi high court held that "it is true that the rules do not expressly require a notice to be issued or a hearing to be given to the party adversely affected by the order when an application on form TM 24 is made before the registrar, but there is in eye of law a necessary implication that the party adversely affected should be heard before an order for the removal of his name can be made against him.

Moreover if no entry has been made in the register, the document or instrument will not be admitted in evidence by the registrar or the appellate board or any court except for certain purposes as stipulated. The Registrar, or the concerned Authority as the case may be, has been given a discretion under this section to admit or not admit an assignment deed for which no application under Form TM-24 has not been made as an evidence of title of the assignee. Such a situation usually arises in cases where actions against third parties are involved. Very often the question as to the maintainability of a suit initiated by an unregistered assignee against the third parties has been dealt with by the Courts-

In Cott Beverage Inc., A Georgia ... vs. Silvassa Bottling Company on 7 October, 20032-In this case, section 44 does not create a bar for filing a suit by the assignee whose application is pending disposal for registration. Discretion, however, is vested in the Court under Subclause (2) of Section 44 of the Act, whether to permit the said unregistered document in evidence or not. At the same time, it cannot be said that the procedure of registration of assignment is a mere formality. Section 44 has been incorporated merely as a safeguard by the Legislature in order to avoid the multiplicity of the proceedings and also in order to ensure that the various other laws prevailing in the country are safeguarded while registering the assignment. Thus, the grant of registration of assignment or transmission cannot be said to be a mere formality and on a conjoint reading of the provisions it will be apparent that the Registrar has to be satisfied after going through the application, which has to be filed in the prescribed form giving various particulars. In the present case, non-registration of the assignment will have to be considered as an important factor.

In Shaw Wallace & Co. (supra)3 case- an application for impleadment of the assignee was under consideration. This court held that till the time the Registrar of Trade Mark, does not record the title in favour of the assignee, the deed of assignment cannot be admitted in evidence. However, the assignee was still impleaded as a party with direction to file the registration as and when accorded by the Registrar.

The above view of the Courts has also been contravened by other Courts. Emphasizing the fact that even if the assignment deed is not registerd with the records of the Trademarks Registry, it, itself is a valid instrument and hence permissible to be taken as an evidence of the assignee's title on the trademark.

IN Mohammad Zumoon Sahib vs. Fathimunnisa4, it was held that the "registration of assignment is not a condition precedent to an action for infringement by the assignee and an assignor of registered trademark will not be disentitled to an action on infringement on ground that assignment was not registered." The Madras court held that the law prescribes a procedure for the assignee or the representative to have registration of this title. The fallacy in the argument is that it is this registration by the Registrar under section 35(1) of the act that confers title .The title already exists in the legal representative and on proof of such title to his satisfaction; the registrar registers him as the proprietor of the trade mark. The plaintiff to the suit for infringement, whose name was not entered as subsequent proprietor, was allowed to maintain the suit on proof of prima Facie title to the mark.

Further, in Hindustan Lever Ltd. v. Bombay Soda Factory5, it was held that "the plaintiff could not be non suited merely because the change in the name of the registered proprietor had not been effected by the time suit was instituted. Registration of the name of the proprietor does not confer title on him. it is merely an evidence of his title. The plaintiff –company was the owner of the trademark in question at all times."

In the case of Modi Threads Ltd. v. Som soot Gola Factory and another,6 it was held that despite non registration of the application the civil suit was maintainable. The court held that it is true that the plaintiff's application for getting transferred and registered trade mark in its name in the office of the registrar is still pending but that does not debar the plantiff to protect the violation of the aforesaid trademark at the hands of unscrupulous persons by filing an action in court of law for injuction.so this is clear prima facie for the court.

Conclusion

Under sub section 2 of section 45 of Trademarks Act, the Registrar or the Competent Authority as the case may be, has been given discretion to admit or refuse to admit an unregistered deed of assignment as a proof of title of the assignee. However, another important thing the courts show that even without registration of assignment, a suit by the assignee is maintainable. If necessary, the suit may be stayed to enable the assignee to register the same. Therefore, it is an obvious fact that after an assignment or merger or transmission as the case may be the assignee has to step into the shoes of the assignor for purposes of any legal proceedings which are pending or indisposed.

Assignment agreements are of considerable importance in IPR since they allow the intellectual property owners to transfer their intellectual property for commercial returns, ensuring intellectual property can be used for monetary gains as well. So issues relating to ownership of IPR must be carefully considered .Though the law provides safeguards, but the slight ambiguity present in the Indian Trademarks Law on this point shall be dealt with by the legislature.

Ayush Vats Intern(Amity law school, Noida) 5th year(2010-2015)

Footnotes

1 AIR 1969 Delhi 324, ILR 1969 Delhi 1227

2 2004 (29) PTC 679 Bom

3 105 (2003) DLT 586, 2003 (27) PTC 63 Del, 2003 (3) RAJ 224

4 (1960) 1 MLJ 270

5 AIR 1964 Kant 173, AIR 1964 Mys 173, (1964) 1 MysLJ

6 AIR 1992 Delhi 4, 1992 (22) DRJ 24

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