On May 15, 2013, the Full Bench of the Delhi High Court delivered its 47-page majority opinion and 94-page minority opinion on three questions referred to it concerning the Designs Act, 2000 and passing off. Following were the questions referred to the full Bench:
(1) Whether the suit for infringement of registered design is maintainable against the another registered proprietor of the design under the Designs Act, 2000;
(2) Whether there can be availability of remedy of passing off in the absence of express saving or preservation of common law of Designs Act, 2000 and more so when the rights and remedies under the Act are statutory in nature; and
(3) Whether the conception of passing off as available under the trademarks can be joined with the action under the Designs Act when the same are mutually inconsistent with that of remedy under the Designs Act.
Following are the conclusions of the majority opinion delivered by Justice Rajiv Shakdher in Paras 34 and 35
34. On various issues raised we may crystallize our opinion as follows:
(i) A plaintiff could institute a suit for infringement of a design against a defendant, who was also a holder of a registered design. The expression "any person" found in Section 22 of the Designs Act would not exclude a subsequent registrant as, according to us, no such words of limitation are found in said Section.
(ii) The plaintiff would be entitled to institute an action of passing off in respect of a design used by him as a trade mark provided the action contains the necessary ingredients to maintain such a proceeding. The argument that such a suit could be instituted only after the expiry of the statutory period provided under Section 11 of the Designs Act, does not find favour with us. This is for the reason that in a given fact situation the plaintiff may have commenced the use of the design as a trademark after its registration. While Section 2(d) of the Designs Act excludes from the definition of a design, any trademark which is defined as such in clause (v) of sub-Section (1) of Section 2 of the 1958 Act or property mark, as defined in Section 479 of the IPC, or any artistic work as defined in clause (c) of Section 2 of the Copyright Act -the use of the design as a trademark post its registration, is not stipulated as a ground for cancellation under Section 19 of the Designs Act.
(ii) (a) In this context we must note the argument of Ms Singh, learned amicus, that passing off action may perhaps be maintainable provided the mark has attained secondary meaning. In our opinion, the issue before us is limited to whether a remedy by way of passing off action would be available qua a registered design used as a trademark by the plaintiff - we are not inclined to comment on the quality of evidence which may be required, if at all, to be produced by the plaintiff to prove whether the mark has acquired the necessary secondary distinctive meaning, for him to secure success, in the action instituted in that behalf.
(iii) We are also of the view that a composite suit for infringement of a registered design and a passing off action would not lie. The Court could, however, try the suits together, if the two suits are filed in close proximity and/or it is of the view that there are aspects which are common to the two suits. The discretion of the court in this matter would necessarily be paramount.
36. Accordingly, our answers to the three issues are as follows:
ISSUE No.I: A holder of a registered design could institute a suit against a defendant who is also in possession of a registered design
ISSUE No.II: A holder of a registered design can institute an action for passing off.
ISSUE No.III: The two actions cannot be combined in one suit
Following are the conclusions of Justice Manmohan Singh in Para 134 of his minority opinion:
a) A suit by the registered proprietor of Design for infringement of the registered design is not maintainable against another registered proprietor under the Designs Act, 2000 in so far as the registration covers the same features of the shape and configuration of the same article under the Design.
b) The remedy of passing off in so far as it relates to claim of protection for shape of articles is not available for the purposes of enforcement of rights and remedies under the Design Act. The said remedy is clearly absent under the Designs Act considering the avowed objective of the Act of 2000 which is to provide limited protection with no unnecessary extension.
c) The remedy of passing off in so far as it relates to claim of protection for shape of articles cannot be joined with the suit for infringement of the registered Design. The said remedy of passing off is available in alternative to the statutory protection conferred by the Design Right. For the purposes of the same, the suitor has to elect between the two inconsistent rights and remedies having distinct objects and policies.
Following were the additional opinions expressed by Justice Singh:
a) Notwithstanding the above said conclusion in (b) and (c), the remedy of passing off would continue to be available along with the infringement of registered designs and can be joined with the same in order to prevent consumer confusion which may be caused by the use of trade mark, get up, trade dress or in any other manner excepting the shape of the goods which is or was forming the subject matter of the registration of the Design.
b) The remedy of the passing off in so far as the shape of the article is concerned shall also be available even during currency of the design monopoly or even after the expiry of same to the extent that the claim of the feature of the shape is not covered within the novelty claim under the Design monopoly rights and the said claim of the protection qualifies all the necessary ingredients of the Trade Mark.
c) A remedy of passing off in so far as the shape of the article is concerned shall not be available even after the expiry of the Design to the extent the said feature of the shape of the article is covered within the novelty claim as made under the Design Right as after expiration of the Design, the novel shape claimed under the Design Act goes in public domain.
We will shortly undertake an analysis of the opinion. I thank Ms.Sneha Jain for sharing the decision with me.