Tata Sons (Plaintiff) in the case of Tata Sons v. Greenpeace International claimed a decree for permanent injunction and damages against Greenpeace International (Defendant No.1) for it's alleged use of the Plaintiff's "TATA" trademark.
Tata Sons is India's oldest and largest private sector employer consisting of over 100 major operating companies, 28 of which are public limited companies. The revenue generated by it, within India is equivalent to 2.1% of India's GDP at current market price. It was stated by the Plaintiff that it had been continuously and consistently using the trademark "TATA" which is a rare and distinctive patronymic name possessing the distinctiveness of an invented word.
The main issue in this case involved the Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL), a 50-50 joint venture of Larsen and Tourbo Limited and Tata Steel Limited. DPCL was awarded a concession by the Government of Orissa to build and operate a port, north of river Dhamra. The Indian affiliate of Greenpeace International, a non profit organization with a presence in 40 countries across Europe, Greenpeace India (Defendant No.2), raised concerns about the alleged probable dangers to the nesting and breeding of Olive Ridley Turtles by the proposed port.
Tata Sons alleged that Greenpeace India had made an online game tilted "TURTLE v. TATA" and had, as such, unauthorizedly, used their trademark "TATA" as well as the "T" within a circle device. The plaintiff further claimed that such use amounted to defamation and was backed by a motive to damage its reputation . The plaintiff based its arguments on the lines that right to free speech cannot be construed as a license to publish defamatory matter and tarnish one's image beyond repair. The plaintiff also argued that the use of "T" device and the "TATA" mark, although, not in course of trade, amounted to trademark dilution if one were to apply the test evolved in the United States.
Greenpeace India in their response stated that the present law suit was a strategic law suit against public participation, intending to silence, censor and intimidate the defendants who are concerned with the negative impact of the Dhamra port project. They urged, that in view of significant threats to nearby protected areas and costal communities, they had been highlighting the concerns through peaceful and non violent methods. They further explained that the impugned Pac-Man inspired video game named "TURTLE v TATA"
was designed as a creative, peaceful and non-confrontational platform to draw attention to the threat that the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles were facing .
Greenpeace India submitted that the use of the "TATA" trademark and 'T' device did not amount to infringement of trade mark as it was not a commercial use. Moreover, it was submitted that the reference to the word "DEMONS" was only made with a view to emphasize and drive home the point that development through the project was just like a "DEMON" threatening the existence and survival of the Olive Ridley Turtles.
The Delhi High Court after considering the arguments on both sides held that the use of a trademark as the object of critical comment, or even attack ,does not necessarily result in infringement. Sometimes the same mark may be used, as in Esso; sometimes it may be a parody (Laugh it Off and Louis Vuitton). If the users intention is to focus on some activity of the trademark owners, and is "denominative", drawing attention of the reader or viewer to the activity, such use can prima facie constitute "due cause" under Section 29 (4), which would disentitle the plaintiff to a temporary injunction, as in this case. The use of TATA, and the `T device or logo, was clearly denominative. Similarly, describing the Tatas as having demonic attributes was hyperbolic and parodic. The court further held that the issue which the defendant sought to address is one of public concern and thus granting an injunction in favour of the Plaintiff would freeze the entire public debate on the effect of the project on the Olive Ridley turtles habitat. Thus, Tata Sons application for interim injunction was dismissed.
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