Auroville Foundation (Auroville) established in 1991 has brought a suit for passing off against Ramaniyam Real Estates Private Limited (Ramaniyam) to stop them from using the name "AUROVALLIE" in relation to real estate project or services in any manner. Auroville in the suit contends:
- Auroville Foundation is an administrative body of international cultural township, Auroville situated on the outskirts of Pondicherry enjoys worldwide recognition through UNESCO and is known for promoting international understanding, world peace, human unity and spiritual pursuits.
- The foundation was established in the year 1991 to make long term arrangements for the better management and further development of Auroville township founded by the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1962 for realizing Human Unity.
- Central Government has notified AUROVILLE under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 vide Notification No. 276(E) dated 28.02.2000.
- Auroville has won many titles and awards over the years and the name has tremendous value. Owing to its distinctiveness and high quality standards the public associate the name Auroville with them.
- Ramaniyam has with a malafide intention adopted the name 'AUROVALLIE' in relation to their construction project to ride on the goodwill and reputation of the Auroville name.
Ramaniyam in the written statement states:
- They are a reputed company founded in the year 1986 and successfully completed over 225 building projects and has earned a reputation in the industry for its integrity and commitment.
- Central Government has not notified Auroville, but, specifically notified the name and emblem, thus, name coupled with the emblem together represent Auroville and not just the name.
- Ramaniyam has not misused the name with emblem as notified by the Government but the term used is "RAMANIYAM AUROVALLIE" and not per se Auroville or its symbol. Further, they have always given Indian names for its projects such as Mansarovar, Aravalli, etc.
- They are a famous entity and there is no cause for confusion and Auroville has approached the Court with a misconception about an imaginary passing off.
Issues were framed and the parties also examined witnesses and marked documents to substantiate their case. The court after considering the pleadings, documents and arguments held as follows:
- Auroville has adduced evidence to prove that the name is protected under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1956. A reading of the Act clearly shows that the word 'Auroville' has a distinct character and is specifically protected, thus, no other person have a right to use the particular name 'Auroville'.
- Ramaniyam's contention that the name coupled with emblem alone represents Auroville is not sustainable. Evidence has also been let in to prove the goodwill and reputation in the Auroville name.
- It is admitted in the pleadings that Ramaniyam has used 'RAMANIYAM AUROVALLIE' for one of their projects. Passing off action depends upon the principle that nobody has a right to represent his business as of another. Projecting the name AUROVALLIE which is deceptively similar to AUROVILLE that has acquired good reputation all over the world clearly indicate that the same has been done to sell their project which is nothing but misrepresentation.
- The contention that Auroville is not involved in any commercial activities and passing off action is not maintainable also fails. The fact remains that Auroville foundation is a cultural township and its activities not only involve promoting cultural township but also various activities including service to various people which involves construction of buildings in the township. Therefore, merely because such services are not made commercially, it cannot be stated that action for passing off is not maintainable.
- Evidence clearly establishes that activities of Auroville Foundation also involve construction of buildings for the foundation. Thus, their activities can be construed as service provided to the beneficiary under the Auroville Foundation Act. In the circumstances, adoption of the name AUROVALLIE which is deceptively similar to Auroville is in bad faith.
In view of the above, the court decreed the suit restraining Ramaniyam from promoting, selling any projects or services using the name AUROVALLIE or any other name deceptively similar to the name Auroville.