With more than Twenty Seven million cases pending in the subordinate Courts across the country, there is a need to look beyond the traditional methods. Without exploring new techniques, it will not be possible to ensure sound and efficient progress of cases in Courts. At the international conference on “Initiative to Reduce Pendency and Delay in Judicial System” Justice Mishra, the Chief Justice of India, spoke about the immense pendency of cases in Indian Courts and recommended various measure to tackle the same, specifically, highlighting the need for timely disposal of cases.
The Rules of civil procedure empower the Court to narrow issues and expedite proceedings by granting summary judgment where the common law permits. It is an effective tool for deciding cases where it can be clearly demonstrated that a trial is unnecessary. However, to grant a summary judgment the Court must be satisfied that there is no genuine issue for trial. The Courts have strictly interpreted the summary judgment test in recent years so that the Rule does not unnecessarily deprive the plaintiffs and defendants of their days in Court. The Order XIII-A of the Civil Procedure Code talks about the summary disposition of such disputes where an appropriate application is filed by the plaintiff or the defendant, to dispose of the suit in a summary fashion i.e. without conducting a full dress trial. The Court can exercise this power when the Plaintiff or Defendant have no real prospect of succeeding on the merits and there is no compelling reason why the suit should not be summarily disposed of.
Recently, the Delhi High Court levied damages in tune of Rupees Eighty Seven Lakh (approx. 120,000 USD) on Pure Play in the case of Skechers USA Inc & Ors v. Pure Play sports for misusing Skechers' Intellectual Property Rights by manufacturing and distributing rip-offs of Skechers' Go-walk 3 series range of shoes. Skechers had filed a case of passing off against Pure Play asserting that Pure Play was copying unique and distinct element and features of the footwear that were sold under its flagship brand. Sketchers showed that its Go-walk 3 series have distinctive features and elements which constitute a trade dress.
The Court was content with the prima facie case as established by plaintiff and was of the view that although the respective trademarks were essentially very different it would still lead to confusion because the several aspects of trade dress were found to be strikingly similar between the shoes of the plaintiffs and those of the defendants. The Court further observed that these features would catch the attention of the consumer and it is likely that the consumers, who would be youngsters more often, would overlook the labels printed inside the shoe sole. The Court also accepted that the Go-Walk 3 series has very distinct features and that the footwear has a trade dress, which acts as a source identifier. The Court ruled in favor of Skechers by passing an interim injunction against Pure Play.
The most intriguing part of the present case is that the summary judgment was passed by the Court without filing an application for a summary judgment by either of the parties. This overruled the order passed by the Court in the landmark case of Bright Enterprises Private Ltd. & Anr. v. MJBizcraft LLP & Anr., which studied the summary judgment proceedings in detail. The Court earlier observed that summary judgment under Order XIII-A cannot be rendered in the absence of an adversary and merely upon the inquisition by the Court. The judgment also highlighted as to how the proceedings couldn't happen without the filing of an application which is mentioned under Rule 4 of Order XIII-A of the Code and why the defendant's reply is necessary. However, in the present case, the Court went ahead and passed the order contrary to the previous judgment and the Order XIII-A without giving any chance of a reply to the defendant or an application per se. The current summary judgment seems to have been contradictory to the prior judgments but as not many deliberations have been done on the topic of summary judgments, it is difficult to assume the right manner of interpretation of such an order.
It is common in disputes relating to the intellectual property right, that the infringers refrain from appearing in the Court during the trial proceedings. In such circumstances, summary judgment is an efficacious mechanism of disposal of disputes instead of requiring the plaintiff to lead evidence ex-parte. However, what needs to be analyzed after looking at the judgments as a whole is the need for recommending a proper and an appropriate procedure related to summary judgments specifically in cases pertaining to passing off and infringement of intellectual property. The Courts need to come to a consensus as to the interpretation and implementation of rules related to summary proceedings in order to avoid any short of contradictory judgments and to take a clear stand in future.