Recently in the case of Agatha Christie Limited v. Registrar Of Trade Marks , the Delhi High Court granted trademark protection to the mark “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”. The celebrated crime fiction author Agatha Christie’s book had been published 80 years ago and the Court confirmed its trademark registration after the Trademark Registry had rejected the application.
The Plaintiff, also the applicant seeking trademark registration is Agatha Christie Limited, the company set up by the author herself which is now being operated by her great-grandson. The matter had been taken to court after the Trademark Registry had rejected the trademark application for the said mark on grounds that it was not distinctive enough.
The Plaintiff claimed that they had applied for trademark registration for the mark “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” in 2017 under classes 9, 16 and 41. The Plaintiff also claimed that on the date that the application was filed, no mark, even remotely similar had been applied for registration or was in use, in relation to the goods and services in respect of which the registration was sought by them. However, the Trademarks Registry rejected the application stating that the “applied mark is a kind of mark where one needs to educate the people that its not just any phrase but a trademark and is intended to be so used. Applied mark is only proposed to be used. There is no substantive evidence that the applied mark has been used as a trademark ever. Applied mark lacks distinctiveness.”
The Court, finding in favour of the Plaintiff and setting aside the impugned order opined that, “The Trade Marks Act, 1999, confers, as a matter of right, the right to register a trademark which does not suffer from any of the infirmities which the Act contemplates.” The Hon’ble Justice mentioned that it cannot be understood why the mark in question was considered not to be distinctive when there was no other similar mark in use at the time and when it was not even descriptive of the goods or services in respect of which the registration was sought. The Hon’ble Justice went further to explain grounds upon which a mark can be refused registration and stated that the circumstances “in which registration of a mark can be refused, being specifically statutorily delineated in the Trade Marks Act, have to be regarded as exhaustive. Absent any of these circumstances, therefore, a request for registration of a trademark cannot be refused.”
Further, the Court held that, “Essentially, if the mark is distinctive, and is not identical or confusingly or deceptively similar to any earlier mark which is registered or in use from a prior date in respect of similar goods or services, or which results in the passing off, by the applicant, of its goods or services as those of another, registration of the mark is a matter of right.”
The Court also explained that the name, being the title of the most well-known work of fiction written by Agatha Christie, is prima facie capable of creating an association between the name and the Plaintiff, which is a company established by Agatha Christie herself.
It is also worth noting that the Court observed that the right to register a trademark is a valuable right, partaking of the character of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India and any decision not to allow registration of a mark should be well reasoned and fall within the ambit of the grounds for refusal provided under the statutory framework.
To conclude, this case once again sheds light on the importance of the right and freedom to trade, including the right to register trademarks and seek trademark protection. It should also be noted that the Court in this matter, clearly set out the grounds for refusal to registration of trademarks, stating that they are exhaustive and barring any sufficient reasons based on those grounds, trademark protection should not be refused to a bona fide applicant. The Court in this case rightly stated that ex facie, the impugned order could not sufficiently explain the grounds of refusal or sustain in facts or in law.