New Delhi: In a significant verdict affecting personality rights, the Ecuadorian Institute for Intellectual Property (Trademark Registry) vide its judgment/resolution dated 06.06.2013 while accepting the opposition filed by Mr. Lalit Bhasin, a leading lawyer in India has rejected the registration of the ARROZ GANDHI mark applied for by one Ana Valverde Munoz of Ecuador.
In this case, Mr. Bhasin on receiving information about clandestine registration of name and image of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi in the South American Country Ecuador had filed an opposition petition in October, 2011 to a request for trademark registration by Ms. Munoz before the Trademark Office, Ecuador seeking registration of the name ‘ARROZ GANDHI’ as a trademark in Ecuador in international class 30 alongwith label/drawing of Mahatma Gandhi. Significantly, ‘ARROZ GANDHI’ when translated into English means, ‘Gandhi rice’. The trademark was sought to be registered in respect of ‘aged or old rice, also medium and long grain rice’ that may or may not come from India.
In his opposition petition, Mr. Bhasin stated that the said act by Ms. Munoz was almost a blasphemy in India as it could hurt the sentiments of the general public who have revered and respected Mahatma Gandhi as Father of the Nation. It was also stated in the petition, that no one can be permitted to carry any commerce and trade under the name and image of Gandhi that too for petty monetary gains, as he was a world famous leader. Mr. Bhasin also pointed out in his opposition that the law of India protects ‘Gandhi’ as a national emblem, under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act of India, 1950 wherein no one may use the name or pictorial representation of Mahatma Gandhi in a trademark or design without authorization of the Government of India.
Considering the grounds of the opposition petition filed by Mr. Bhasin and the arguments addressed, the Trademark Registry while accepting the opposition filed and rejecting the registration sought by Ms. Munoz vide its judgment dated 06.06.2013 held that considering the similarities and not the differences, it could be concluded that the mark solicited “ARROZ GANDHI” infringe the copyright of the Gandhi drawing, as it contains in totality the graphic element of the character.
The judgment further adjudicated on the existence of legitimate interest in opposition by Mr. Bhasin stating that he has the capacity, power and rights that all Indian citizens have for defending their national symbols, as well as the characters that form part of their culture and identity as citizens of a foreign country. Further the term GANDHI constitutes an icon of spirituality and his image has been recognized officially as one of the highest national symbols of the Republic of India.
The judgment is significant as even though the law pertaining to personality rights is still at a nascent stage in India, yet relying on the said principles, the South American Country Ecuador has conferred legal recognition of rights of personality and publicity of a national figure in a foreign country thereby prohibiting financial benefit from the use of such person’s image and likeness.