In a recent legal skirmish between Blenders Pride and London Pride, the stage was set for a clash involving trademark infringement and allegations of imitating a well-established brand. Notably, the Hon’ble Madhya Pradesh High Court declined to grant a temporary injunction against the defendant, the producers of "London Pride", for alleged trademark infringement of registered trademarks of the plaintiff's 'Blenders Pride'. This article delves into the intricacies of the case and the Court's stance on this contentious matter.
The Plaintiff, Pernod Ricard India Private Limited, a prominent player who manufactures and distributes wines, liquors, and spirits, alleged that the defendant's use of the mark ‘London Pride’ for whisky amounted to trademark infringement against their well-established brands ‘Blenders Pride’ and ‘Imperial Blue’. The trademarks 'Blenders Pride' and 'Imperial Blue', registered under Class 33, have been associated with whisky since 1995 and 1997, respectively. Additionally, the plaintiff is the registered trademark holder of Seagram's, the house mark used domestically in India and internationally. The Hon'ble Madhya Pradesh High Court was presented with this case as an appeal against the order of the trial court.
The plaintiff contends that the defendant is selling ‘London Pride’ whisky in a manner that is deceptively similar to its 'Blenders Pride' trademark. Furthermore, the plaintiff asserts that the defendant's whisky is being sold with labelling, packaging, and trade dress deceptively similar to the plaintiff's 'Imperial Blue.' The plaintiff further claims that the most important and distinguishing feature of their trademark, ‘Blenders Pride’, is ‘Pride’ and Defendant is misleading and defrauding the public by using the ‘London Pride’ get up, similar to that of Plaintiff’s ‘Imperial Blue’. The plaintiff accordingly prayed before the trial court for an interim injunction to prevent the defendant from misusing the plaintiff's mark and getting up.
By the impugned order, the trial Court has observed that when two brands are compared, the only significant similar feature is the word ‘PRIDE’, and there is no other similarity visible between the two brands. The packaging, style, shape and logo are all different between the two. The trial Court further observed that the word ‘PRIDE” is commonly used in common parlance and is not exclusive to the plaintiff. A consumer going into the market to purchase premium/ultra-premium whisky will not be confused by the word ‘Pride’ in the name of any other brand. The mark has to be compared as a whole, and merely by using the word “Pride” in its trademarks, it cannot be said that the defendant has imitated the plaintiff’s trademark.
In an appeal before the Hon’ble Madhya Pradesh High Court, the plaintiff challenged the Trial Court's approach in analysing the competing marks. The plaintiff argued that the marks should have been evaluated as a whole without splitting up and dissecting the mark to adjudicate the visual, phonetic, and structural aspects and without splitting up the word “Pride” while making comparisons. The plaintiff argues that the trial court failed to assess the marks from the perspective of a person with average intelligence and imperfect recollection. By comparing their products with those of the defendant, the plaintiff contends that the products of the defendant share the essential features of the plaintiff and are creating a likelihood of confusion among consumers. The plaintiff, therefore, sought an immediate injunction, alleging that ‘London Pride’ had copied their registered trademark.
The defendant, on the other hand, endorsed the order of the trial Court and asserted that there was no illegality or perversity in the said order and that the order of the trial Court was a result of a thorough evaluation of the marks of both parties.
The High Court, in its order, emphasised that appellate Courts should refrain from intervening in the trial Court orders unless there is substantiated evidence of illegal or perverse actions. This cautious approach is grounded in recognising that temporary injunctions entail discretionary relief.
The Court highlighted a crucial legal principle by emphasising that the mere existence of alternative views does not constitute sufficient grounds for overturning the decision of the trial Court. This reference draws from the case of Wander Ltd. and Another vs Antox India: 1990 (Supp) SCC 727, establishing the importance of acknowledging diverse perspectives in the case without automatically challenging the trial court’s judgment. The Court further explained that the appellate Court’s interference is warranted only when the trial Court’s exercise of discretion is evidently incorrect or untenable. This principle finds support in the precedent set by Mohd. Mehtab Khan & Ors. Vs. Khushnuma Ibrahim & Ors.: 2013 (9) SCC 211.
The Court observed that merely using the word “PRIDE” alone doesn’t create confusion for consumers, as products are typically identified and purchased by their full names or by their first word. Notably, the plaintiff's mark begins with "Blenders," while the defendant's starts with the word “London,” showing clear dissimilarity between the two. The generic nature of “PRIDE” in “BLENDERS PRIDE” makes “Blenders” the dominant part.
The Court also held that consumers who opt for “premium” or “ultra-premium” whisky are presumed to have sufficient literacy and intelligence to distinguish between bottles labelled as “London Pride” and “Blenders Pride” or “Imperial Blue”. The Court referred to Khoday Distilleries Limited vs. The Scotch Whisky Association (2008) 10 SCC 723 as a precedent.
Additionally, citing Cadila Health Care Ltd. vs Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd. [(2001) 5 SCC 73], the Court emphasised the importance of considering the characteristics of the consumers in assessing deceptive similarity. Factors such as the class of purchasers, their education, intelligence, and the level of care in purchasing or using the goods are essential in determining deceptive similarity. The Court compared the packaging, forms, and trade dress of the plaintiff with the defendant’s products, emphasising differences in bottles, labels, and overall packaging. The Hon’ble Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim of resemblance based on the use of the term "Pride", concluding that there was no actual similarity between the defendant’s mark and the plaintiff’s registered trademarks. The Court found the question of comparison of 'Imperial Blue' and "London Pride" to be irrelevant.
The Court concluded and affirmed that the trial Court had made no errors in holding that there is no similarity between the Plaintiff’s and Defendant's mark, which can be said to be the imitation of the plaintiff's trademark, which could deceive the consumers. The Trial Court’s findings were held by the Court to be fair and lawful, warranting no intervention. Consequently, the appeal was held to be lacking in merits and was dismissed.
Against the order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, the plaintiff then preferred an Appeal (Special Leave to Appeal (C) No. 28489/2023) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, and the same is pending adjudication.