The controversy surrounding Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd. attempt to trademark the word ‘Coronil’ for the controversial drug ‘Coronil’ which is promoted as a cure for COVID 19 does not seem to end and raises serious concern about their intention of reaping profits exploiting public fear.
It all started when Patanjali launched ‘Coronil’ in June 2020 with a declaration on national television that it is an Ayurveda medicine to cure COVID 19. The first blow to this launch came from the Ministry of Ayush followed by a direction from the ministry to Patanjali Ayurved to stop advertising the medicine as a cure for COVID 19. The Ministry stated that it does not have any information relating to the claim of the studies carried out to test the medicine.
Another blow came from the Madras High Court in July 2020 in a trademark infringement suit, in which an interim order was passed against Patanjali [Defendant] restraining them from using the trademark ‘Coronil’. The order was passed by a single bench judge, Justice CV Karthikeyan. The plea was moved by Chennai-based Company, Arudra Engineering Private Limited [Plaintiff], which claimed that the trademarks ‘Coronil-213 SPL’ and ‘Coronil-92B’ are registered under their name since 1993.
The Plaintiff contended that they used the name Coronil because their product is used by heavy industries to prevent corrosion and to reduce the depreciation in the value of the units during the cleaning process. The plaintiff contended that its products with the trademark ‘Coronil’ have a global presence including huge industrial units of India such as BHEL, NTPC Limited, Reliance Industrial Ltd, Indian Oil Corporation, and other companies as its clients. To prove its claims they also produced sales bills of the products of the past five years. The Senior Advocate, appearing for Plaintiff, PR Rama claimed that as per section 29(4) of the Trademarks Act, 1999, a registered trademark is infringed by a person, who is not a registered proprietor or a permitted user and uses a trademark which is identical or similar to the trademark already registered, irrespective of the fact that the business is similar or not and the registered trademark has a reputation in India and the use of the mark without due cause takes unfair advantage of or is detrimental to the distinctive character or repute of the registered trademark. The plaintiff contended that Patanjali’s ‘Coronil’ mark is identical to the marks adopted by them and this is certainly infringing their rights as per the Trademark Act, 1999. Lastly, the Plaintiff stated that they have the right over their trademark till 2027 and permitting Patanjali for using the same trademark would directly affect the reputation and goodwill of the company which it has created for over 26 years in both international and domestic markets.
Thus, the court after hearing the case granted a temporary injunction in favour of the Plaintiff till July 30 and observed that the defendant can market its product but only by using a different name as they cannot infringe the rights of the Plaintiff over its registered trademark.
Later Patanjali and Divya Mandir Yog Trust sought to vacate the interim injunction order but on 6th August 2020, the Madras High Court decided to make permanent stay on them for using the trademark ‘Coronil’ and also imposed a fine of Rs. 10 lakh for chasing profits by exploiting fear of people by developing and marketing ‘Coronil Tablet’ as a cure for COVID-19 which is an immunity booster for cough, fever and cold. The 104-page order of single bench judge, Justice C.V. Karthikeyan observed that “the defendants have invited this litigation for themselves and a simple check on the facts would have revealed that ‘Coronil’ is a registered trademark. Additionally, it was decided that the fine imposed is to be equally divided between the Adyar Cancer Institute and the Government Yoga and Naturopathy Medical College and Hospital in Arumbakkam, Chennai, where COVID-19 patients are treated free of cost without claiming any trademark, copyright, patent or design but rather with a motto of service.
However, interestingly on 14th August, a division bench of Madras High Court comprising of Justice R Subbiah and Justice S Saravana provided temporary relief to the defendants by suspending the operation of the injunction order for two weeks until the final hearing of the appeal takes place. The Senior Counsel, C. Aryama Sundaram and Satish Parasaran appearing for defendants submitted that the trademark held by the plaintiff’s company is a label mark and there are 191 companies which use some derivative of ‘Corona’ term in their name. Further, they deal with different products and that cannot cause any confusion for the customers and if the argument of the Plaintiff is accepted then every company may sue other company using the same name although they deal with a different product such as LG Electronics may sue LG Asafoetida powder company. They also stated that the plaintiff’s company with earning of Rs. 60 lakh per annum cannot cry for their reputation affected by the defendant’s 100 crore company. The counsels informed that the Ayurveda medicines were being sold as Divya Coronil tablets and they maintain a full account of sales and if the order is not stayed then it would cause irreparable damages to Patanjali and Divya Yog Mandir Trust. On the other hand the senior counsel for the Arudra Engineers, Mr. P.R. Raman stated that Section 29(4) of the Trademark Act of 1999 does not require the offending company to be dealing with the same product. It is enough to prove that they have copied a registered trademark and this is exactly what Patanjali has done.
Based on the arguments from both the sides the court decided to stay the order for two weeks and will decide the matter in the final hearing which is yet to happen. It will be interesting to see how the court decides the trademark dispute without being affected by the fraud or deception that surrounds the very existence of the Patanjali’s Coronil medicine.