India: Whatman Filter Paper: Filtering Out Counterfeits Way Back From 1992

Last Updated: 14 May 2019
Article by R. K Dewan & Co

Whatman International Ltd. ("Whatman"), an American company engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling filtration equipment filed a suit for infringement of trademark, copyright, trade dress, passing off against P. Mehta and others ("Defendants") at the High Court of Delhi.

Whatman stated that the Defendants (There were 8 Defendants, allegedly related to each other through family or business) had been manufacturing and selling counterfeit products which were deceptively similar to the Whatman filter paper. Whatman stated that not only did the Defendants use its trademarks, but the color combination and get up on the counterfeit products was also similar to that of Whatman's filter paper i.e. white background with blue script for packing of the filter paper sold under the marks 'HIRAL', 'ACHME', 'LABSMAN', 'U-CHEM' and 'SUN'.

Whatman contented that the Defendants were habitual infringers due to their long history of selling counterfeit filter paper i.e. from 1992 till 2005. Various actions such as were taken against the Defendants which included- lodging complaints in 1992 (after which the Defendants gave undertaking to stop selling the counterfeit filter papers); number of FIRs in the years 1992 and 2005; interim injunction in favour of Whatman in May 2014; and consequently the seizure of impugned filter papers by Local Commissioner from defendant's premises, etc. However, the Defendants continued to sell the counterfeit filter papers inspite of all these actions and under the names of various entities. Whatman again filed an FIR against the Defendants again in 2018 as a consequence of continuous infringement of its rights by the Defendants which led to the present suit for permanent injunction along with damages was filed.

The Defendants, in opposition to Whatman's allegations, contended that packaging of filter papers sold by them was in no way identical to that of Whatman's and the overall look, arrangement and trade dress of defendant's product was not copied from Whatman.

The Defendants also refuted all other allegations made by Whatman by stating that there was no violation of the injunction order passed by the honorable court in 2014. They claimed that the stock of filter papers found at their premises by the Local Commissioner was an old stock which was 4 years old, as they have not been conducting the business of manufacturing and selling filter papers from the date of injunction order of the court. However, these statements were found to be false since on examination of the concerned stock.

The court observed that the Defendants had made a clear attempt to mislead the court by repeatedly making false statements in court in relation to the said business of filter papers and the relationship/ connections amongst all the Defendants.

The court was of the view that these activities of the Defendants which involved the continued infringement of Whatman's mark and counterfeiting of the Whatman's products. Further, inspite of the various court orders and criminal proceedings initiated against them, they continued to carry on the unfair practices which amounted to contempt of court.

The Court observed that if strict action is not taken, orders of Courts would not be complied with by litigants, as is evident in the present case. The illegalities as such as repeated violations and disobedience of the orders and undertakings are deliberate and conscious. The suit was decreed in favour of Whatman and all the Defendants were asked to collectively pay damages to the tune of INR 1 Crore and 35 Lac. The Plaintiff was also to be compensated for the costs incurred by them which included, inter alia, litigation as well, the court fee, official fee of the Commissioners, expenses, legal costs etc. which summed up to around INR 14 Lacs. A decree of delivery up and permanent injunction was, passed against all the Defendants.

Compiled by: Adv. Sachi Kapoor | Concept & Edited by: Dr. Mohan Dewan

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