India: Madras High Court Clarifies Jurisdictional Issue: Wipro’s Appeal Allowed

Last Updated: 10 September 2008

Interpretation of Statutes is key to the operation of law. While the rules existent to this may be several, occasions do arise whereby the Courts take cognizance of the same, primarily where the scope of contrast and conflicting interpretations exist. The case of Wipro Ltd. & Anr. V. Oushadha Chandrika Ayurvedic India(P) Ltd. & Ors. [2008 (37) PTC 269] takes cognizance of one such occasion.

The question that came forth the Court centered around the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court to entertain suits filed under S. 134 of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 (Suit for infringement, etc. to be filed before the District Court) and S. 62(2) (Jurisdiction of Court over matters arising under this (Civil Remedies) Chapter) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The Single Judge had rejected the decision on the ground that no part of the cause of action had arisen within the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court, Oushada Chandrika were residing outside its jurisdiction, while prior leave to sue had also not been obtained.

Wipro had filed a suit for permanent injunction against Oushada Chandrika for restraining them from infringing and using their trademark "Chandrika". They also filed another suit to restrain Oushada Chandrika from violating their copyright in "Chandrika". Wipro, an FMCG company, claimed that the use of Chandrika originated from the use of the registered mark and the consequent assignment of the same with regard to its use for soaps, to Wipro. They also claimed that huge sums had been spent in promoting the brand "Chandrika", and that the use of a similar mark and get-up with the prefix "Oushadha" gave a wrongful impression to the public. They also asserted that the same had been done with a view to practice deception on the public and to encash on Wipro's goodwill and reputation.

An ex-parte order of injunction on an interlocutory application had already been passed, and an application for rejection of plaint had been filed by Oushadha Chandrika. Oushadha Chandrika also contended that the place of business was different- that of Wipro being Bangalore, while they were located at Kerala., and without any cause of action arising in Chennai, the Court could not entertain the grievance against them. They also stated that the phrase "actually and voluntarily resides or carries on business" be interpreted meaningfully and that the phrase did not include branch offices in its scope.

The Counsel for Wipro submitted that the averments made in the plaint were germane, while the contentions of Oushadha Chandrika are irrelevant. They stated that the sections pertinent to the case were exceptions to the general rule, allowing suits to be filed at the District Court, within whose limits the person instituting the suit actually and voluntarily resides or carries on business. He stated that the section not merely aimed at including head offices, but also branch operations. They also stated that the sections contained a non-obstante clause, by virtue of which the Letters Patent is superseded by the legislation and hence fulfillment of Clause 12 was not a pre-requisite. The Counsel for Oushadha Chandrika contraverted this stating that having a branch office in Chennai was of no consequence to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court. They strengthened their argument by stating that none of the goods were sold in Chennai and hence no cause of action arose there.

The Court analyzing the provisions under contention, concluded that a deliberate departure from S. 20 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 had been made, in as much as to include all places where business activities were conducted, be it the principle place of business or a place where branches were located. Considering that an objection on the question of jurisdiction was raised by way of demurrer and not by trial, the Court opined that the objection be proceeded considering the facts presented by the initiator of the impugned proceedings as true. The Court allowed the appeals and restored the suits, while reviving the ad-interim injunction and reverting the matter back to the Ld. Single Judge.

© Lex Orbis 2008

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