The Delhi High Court recently took a significant step in the legal arena by issuing a temporary restraining order against Wipro Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. in the case of Himalaya Wellness Company v. Wipro Enterprises Private Limited. This injunction prevents the conglomerate from manufacturing, selling, and advertising female hygiene and menstrual health products under the trademark ‘EVECARE.’ The legal action was initiated by Himalaya Wellness Company claiming that Wipro is using the identical mark ‘EVECARE’ in relation to the products meant to promote female menstrual health, thereby causing confusion in the trade and the public.
Setting the Context
Himalaya Wellness Company boasts a rich legacy in ayurvedic medicaments and preparations, tracing back to 1930. The company’s diverse product range falls under the comprehensive ‘Himalaya’ brand. Within this assortment, the company has marketed an ayurvedic proprietary medicine for women’s uterine health, branded as ‘EVECARE’ and ‘EVECARE FORTE.’ Their ‘EVECARE’ mark received registration in 1997 for medical and pharmaceutical preparations.
Contrastingly, Wipro Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., an arm of the Wipro conglomerate, is noted for its consumer goods manufacturing history. In 2022, Himalaya Wellness Company became aware of Wipro’s registration of the ‘EVECARE’ mark for cosmetic products, sparking concerns about potential confusion in the market.
Plaintiff’s Concerns vs. Defendant’s Justifications
Himalaya Wellness Company argued that Wipro’s utilization of the ‘EVECARE’ mark for menstrual health products could result in market confusion, ultimately jeopardizing the meticulously cultivated brand reputation developed over 24 years. They underlined the identical nature of the marks and the possible confusion among consumers.
In defense, Wipro Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. maintained that adopting the ‘EVECARE’ mark was done in good faith and intended for feminine hygiene products. As per their submission, the comprehensive search revealed no existing application or registration for the mark ‘EVECARE’ at the TMR leading to its successful registration. Wipro obtained registration of the mark ‘EVECARE’ in Class 3 in 2022 on a ‘proposed to be used’ basis in respect of cosmetic products.
Unpacking the Court’s Analysis
The Court’s rationale was grounded in the principle that a claim of passing off could still stand even if both parties’ marks were registered. This position was fortified by referencing cases such as Cadila Health Care Ltd. v. Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Satyam Infoway v. Siffynet Solution (P) Ltd., Syed Mohideen v. P. Sulochana Bai, and V. Guard Industries v. Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals.
The Court took note of the timeline of mark adoption. The plaintiffs embraced the ‘EVECARE’ mark for their ayurvedic medicines in 1997. In contrast, the defendant adopted the same mark for their ‘vaginal wash’ in November 2020, with the plaintiffs’ products already in the market since 1998. Moreover, the defendant’s product launch in August 2021 prompted the Court’s scrutiny.
The Court expressed curiosity about the defendant’s decision to launch a product closely related to female reproductive hygiene, using an identical mark two decades later. The Court deemed this perplexing, as a basic due diligence process through a cursory Google search or examination of the Trade Marks Registry could have illuminated the plaintiffs’ identical mark.
Drawing on the legal wisdom of Cadila Healthcare and Satyam Infoway, the Court highlighted that misrepresentation could be discerned without an inherent malicious intent on the part of the defendant. It stressed that establishing fraud or concrete damage wasn’t a prerequisite. A mere likelihood of confusion sufficed. Consequently, the Court viewed the defendant’s lack of a plausible explanation for adopting the identical mark as indicative of misrepresentation rather than bona fide intention.
The Court honed in on the identical marks for analogous goods. It reasoned that simultaneously encountering both parties’ products could confuse consumers, leading them to associate one product with another. This confusion was amplified by the sensitive nature of the products—related to women’s menstrual and reproductive health—falling within the category of ‘hush products.’ Given societal taboos, prospective buyers might refrain from extensive inquiries before purchasing such products, heightening the risk of confusion.
Court’s Final Say
In light of these considerations, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs had established a prima facie case of passing off. The balance of convenience weighed in favor of the plaintiffs due to their 24-year presence in the market and significant sales compared to the defendant’s product, which was only introduced around 1.5 years prior. The Court also recognized that denying the injunction could lead to irreparable harm for both the plaintiffs and the public.
Hence, the Court issued a restraining order against the defendant. This order prohibited the defendant from engaging in any activities related to their female hygiene and menstrual health product under the ‘EVECARE’ mark or any similar mark until the final resolution of the case. This decision aimed to safeguard the plaintiffs’ interests and prevent potential confusion or deception in the market.
The outcome of this case emphasizes the crucial significance of protecting well-known trademarks and maintaining the authenticity of a brand. The Court’s evaluation underscores the need for comprehensive research by companies venturing into competitive markets. The ruling accentuates the supreme importance of a brand’s positive reputation and the role it plays in upholding consumer confidence.