The Delhi High Court recently decided an interesting case relating to comparative advertising. The case was instituted by Reckitt Benkciser (India) Ltd. (the owners of the brand “DETTOL”) against Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (the owners of the brand “VIM”). Reckitt Benkciser (India) Ltd. (‘RBL’) sued Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (‘HUL’) for commercial disparagement and sought interim injunction against HUL restraining HUL from publishing advertisements disparaging the ‘DETTOL HEALTHY KITCHEN’ trademark. The Delhi High Court found in favour of RBL and granted an order against HUL.

The facts of the case in brief are as under:

RBL is the manufacturer of the famous antiseptic liquid/soap sold under the trademark DETTOL. RBL recently came out with a new product under the name DETTOL HEALTHY KITCHEN. They promoted their product by way of an advertising campaign on television comparing the germ killing capabilities of their product with HUL’s product – Vim Liquid. HUL filed a case against RBL at the Calcutta High Court. HUL started an advertising campaign which asked its readers the question “A Harsh Antiseptic or the power of 100 lemons - which one would you choose to clean your child’s tiffin?” against which RBL filed a case at the Delhi High Court.

The Hon’ble High Court in its order, inter alia stated, “With regards to comparative advertising, the law is well settled. This Court in the case of Dabur India Ltd v. Colortek Meghalaya Pvt. Ltd and Godrej Sara-Lee, (Supra), while referring to the law laid down by the Supreme Court, has shaped the following guiding principles regarding puffery of a product:

  1. An advertisement is commercial speech and is protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
  2. An advertisement must not be false, misleading, unfair or deceptive.
  3. Of course, there would be some grey areas but these need not necessarily be taken as serious representation of facts but only as glorifying one’s product.
  4. While glorifying its product, an advertiser may not denigrate or disparage a rival product.”

The Hon’ble High Court found that HUL’s advertisement campaign was aimed at denigrating the product of RBL and thus passed an order restraining HUL from disparaging the goodwill and reputation of RBL’s trademark DETTOL or its product DETTOL HEALTHY KITCHEN.