Forum to decide Validity of Registration of Trade Mark

Jurisdiction of Civil Court is barred:

Section 111 of Trade Marks Act, 1958:

Section 111 of the 1958 Act specifically provides that if a proceeding for rectification of the register in relation to the trade mark of either the plaintiff or the defendant is pending before the Registrar or the High Court, as may be, and a suit for infringement is filed wherein the aforesaid plea is raised either by the defendant or by the plaintiff, the suit shall remain stayed. Section 111 further provides if no proceedings for rectification are pending on the date of filing of the suit and the issue of validity of the registration of the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s trade mark is raised/arises subsequently and the same is prima facie found to be tenable, an issue to the aforesaid effect shall be framed by the Civil Court and the suit will remain stayed for a period of three months from the date of framing of the issue so as to enable the concerned party to apply to the High Court for rectification of the register. Section 111(2) of the 1958 Act provides that in case an application for rectification is filed within the time allowed the trial of the suit shall remain stayed. Sub-Section (3) of Section 111 provides that in the event no such application for rectification is filed despite the order passed by the Civil Court, the plea with regard to validity of the registration of the trade mark in question shall be deemed to have been abandoned and the suit shall proceed in respect of any other issue that may have been raised therein. Sub-section (4) of Section 111 provides that the final order as may be passed in the rectification proceeding shall bind the parties and the civil court will dispose of the suit in conformity with such order insofar as the issue with regard to validity of the registration of the trade mark is concerned.

Following well accepted principles of interpretation of statutes, which would hardly require a reiteration, the heading of Section 111 of the 1958 Act i.e. “Stay of proceedings where the validity of registration of the trade mar k is questioned, etc.” , cannot be understood to be determinative of the true purport, intent and effect of the provisions contained therein so as to understand the said section to be contemplating only stay of proceedings of the suit where validity of the registration of the trade mark is questioned. Naturally, the whole of the provisions of the section will have to be read and so read the same would clearly show lack of any legislative intent to limit/confine the operation of the section to what its title may convey.

Rather, from the resume of the provisions of the 1958 Act made above it becomes clear that all questions with regard to the validity of a Trade Mark is required to be decided by the Registrar or the High Court under the 1958 Act or by the Registrar or the IPAB under the 1999 Act and not by the Civil Court. The Civil Court, infact, is not empowered by the Act to decide the said question. Furthermore, the Act mandates that the decisions rendered by the prescribed statutory authority [Registrar/High Court (now IPAB)] will bind the Civil Court. At the same time, the Act (both old and new) goes on to provide a different procedure to govern the exercise of the same jurisdiction in two different situations. In a case where the issue of invalidity is raised or arises independent of a suit, the prescribed statutory authority will be the sole authority to deal with the matter. However, in a situation where a suit is pending (whether instituted before or after the filing of a rectification application) the exercise of jurisdiction by the prescribed statutory authority is contingent on a finding of the Civil Court as regards the prima facie tenability of the plea of invalidity.

Conversely, in a situation where the Civil Court does not find a triable issue on the plea of invalidity the remedy of an aggrieved party would not be to move under Sections 46/56 of the 1958 Act but to challenge the order of the Civil Court in appeal. This would be necessary to avoid multiple proceedings on the same issue and resultant conflict of decisions.

The 1958 Act clearly visualizes that though in both situations i.e. where no suit for infringement is pending at the time of filing of the application for rectification or such a suit has came to be instituted subsequent to the application for rectification, it is the Registrar or the High Court which constitutes the Tribunal to determine the question of invalidity, the procedure contemplated by the Statute to govern the exercise of jurisdiction to rectify is, however, different in the two situations enumerated. Such difference has already been noted.

The intention of the legislature is clear. All issues relating to and connected with the validity of registration has to be dealt with by the Tribunal and not by the civil court. In cases where the parties have not approached the civil court, Sections 46 and 56 provide an independent statutory right to an aggrieved party to seek rectification of a trade mark. However, in the event the Civil Court is approached, inter alia, raising the issue of invalidity of the trade mark such plea will be decided not by the civil court but by the Tribunal under the 1958 Act. The Tribunal will however come into seisin of the matter only if the Civil Court is satisfied that an issue with regard to invalidity ought to be framed in the suit. Once an issue to the said effect is framed, the matter will have to go to the Tribunal and the decision of the Tribunal will thereafter bind the Civil Court. If despite the order of the civil court the parties do not approach the Tribunal for rectification, the plea with regard to rectification will no longer survive.

The legislature while providing consequences for non-compliance with timelines for doing of any act must be understood to have intended such consequences to be mandatory in nature, thereby, also affecting the substantive rights of the parties. This is how Section 111(3) of the 1958 Act has to be understood. That apart, it is very much within the legislative domain to create legal fictions by incorporating a deeming clause and the court will have to understand such statutory fictions as bringing about a real state of affairs between the parties and ushering in legal consequences affecting the parties unless, of course, there is any other contrary provision in the statue. None exists in the 1958 Act to understand the provisions of Section 111(3) in any other manner except that the right to raise the issue of invalidity is lost forever if the requisite action to move the High Court/IPAB (now) is not initiated within the statutorily prescribed time frame.

Thus, by virtue of the operation of the 1958 Act, the plea of rectification, upon abandonment, must be understood to have ceased to exist or survive between the parties inter se. Any other view would be to permit a party to collaterally raise the issue of rectification at any stage notwithstanding that a final decree may have been passed by the civil court in the meantime. True, the decree of the Civil Court will be on the basis of the conclusions on the other issues in the suit. But to permit the issue of rectification, once abandoned, to be resurrected at the option of the party who had chosen not to pursue the same at an earlier point of time would be to open the doors to reopening of decrees/orders that have attained finality in law. This will bring in uncertainty if not chaos in the judicial determinations between the parties that stand concluded. Besides, such an interpretation would permit an aggrieved party to get over the operation of a statute providing for deemed abandonment of the right to raise an issue relevant; in fact, fundamental to the lis. The position may be highlighted by reference to a suit for infringement where the defendant raises the plea of invalidity of the plaintiff’s trade mark and also in the alternative takes up any of the defenses available in law. The defendant by operation of Section 111(3) of the 1958 Act is deemed to have abandoned the plea of invalidity. In the trial it is found that the defendant is guilty of infringement and is appropriately restrained by a decree of the Civil Court. If the right under Section 46/56 of the 1958 Act is to subsist even in such a situation, the possible uncertainty and possible anarchy may well be visualized. This is why the legislature by enacting Section 111 of the 1958 Act has mandated that the issue of invalidity which would go to the root of the matter should be decided in the first instance and a decision on the same would bind the parties before the civil court. Only if the same is abandoned or decided against the party raising it that the suit will proceed in respect of the other issues, if any. If the above is the legislative intent, which seems to be clear, we do not see how the same can be overcome by reading the rights under Sections 46 and 56 of the 1958 Act to exist even in a situation where the abandonment of the same right under Section 111(3) has taken effect in law. The mandate of the 1958 Act, particularly, Section 111 thereof, appears to be that if an aggrieved party does not approach the Tribunal for a decision on the issue of invalidity of registration as provided for under Section 111(2) and (3), the right to raise the issue (of invalidity) would no longer survive between the parties to enable the concerned party to seek enforcement of the same by recourse to or by a separate action under the provisions of Section 46/56 of the 1958 Act.

[Source: Patel Field Marshal Agencies And  vs P.M Diesels Ltd., decided by SC on 29 November, 2017]

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