What should be test of deceptive similarity with respect to word having common
word, either a prefix or as a suffix? ‘Words common to trade’, a facet of
‘deceptive similarity’, has generally constrained the courts in laying
down ratio-decidendi for judging the similarity between the two common trade
words. Deceptive similarity, a vital tribulations though elaborately dealt under
the Trade Marks Act, 1999, has often left the court to decide the issue of
‘common trade words’ on facts and circumstances, may it be the difference
between ‘DROPOVIT’ and ‘PROTOVIT’ questioned in F. Hoffmann-La Roche vs.
 or between ‘House of ATLAS’ and ‘ATLAS’ questioned in Atlas
Cycles (Haryana) Ltd. vs. Atlas Products Pvt Ltd
. or between ‘Microtel’ and
‘Micronics’ questioned in J.R. Kapoor vs. Micronix India
, oscillating the
relief between the petitioner seeking relief or defendant opposing it.
similar issue came up for decision before the Delhi High Court in Rich Products
Corporation and Another vs. Indo Nippon Foods Limited
 wherein the court had
to decide whether the defendant by using the trademark BELLS WHIP TOPPING was
passing off and infringed the copyright granted to the plaintiff in trademark
RICH’S WHIP TOPPING. This was one of the case, where the Hon’ble Court dealt
with the issue of deceptive similarity for the trademarks having Common Word.
this case, competing trade marks of parties were having word WHIP TOPPING as
part of their trademarks as common element. While BELLS and RICH’s were uncommon
element in both the competing trademarks in question. This Judgment was
pronounced by Shri Rajiv Sikhder, Hon’ble Judge on 19.02.2010 in suit bearing
CS(OS) No.246 of 2004 and the title of case was Rich Products Corporation Vs
Indo Nippon Food Limited.
In order to appreciate the principle laid down by the Hon’ble High
Court in the afore mentioned case, it is necessary to delve into facts of the
case. It was a case where the Plaintiff , one of the world’s premier food
company and a joint venture concern in India, were engaged in making non-dairy
toppings, icings, and fillings. According to the petitioners Mr. Rich, founder
and chairman of the Board of their company, had discovered vegetable based
replacement for whipped cream derived from a new source – soybean, which could
be frozen, thawed and whipped.
They claimed their business had revolutionized
food processing and had opened up a new world of non-dairy products to the
growing frozen food industry. They named their product as ‘Rich’s Whip Topping’,
‘Rich's Bettercreme Icing and Filling’, and ‘Rich's On Top non-dairy dessert
topping’. ‘RICH’S WHIP TOPPING’ as trade mark was registered in India since 1991
with a disclaimer that registration was not to give exclusive use of letter ‘S’
and the word ‘TOPPING’ but the fact of disclaimer was not disclosed in the suit.
Defendant sold similar product in India with the trade mark ‘BELLS WHIP TOPPING’
since 1995. This was the relevant facts of the subject matter case. Now let us
see, what were the issues , which the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi formulated for
deciding the issue.
The Question , which the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, formulated is
that whether the defendant with its mark ‘BELLS WHIP TOPPING’ had infringed the
plaintiffs' registered trademark ‘RICH’S WHIP TOPPING’? The second relevant
issue which the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi formulated was that Whether
non-disclosure of ‘disclaimer’ in the grant of trademark registration would make
the suit liable for dismissal? The court also formulated another issue
like Whether the trademark RICH‟S WHIP TOPPING is a trademark possessing trans
Let us see what the Plaintiff contended before the Hon’ble High
Court of Delhi. The Plaintiff claimed the trademark WHIP TOPPING had trademark
significance in their product. They further submitted that the defendant had
copied their colour scheme, instructions and packaging style. They raised the
following contentions: the defendant not only infringed their trademark but also
tried to pass off its product as that of the plaintiffs; the case had to be
assumed in their favour as their trademark was registered since 1991 and the
registration of defendant’s trademark was still pending; while comparing
trademarks, the trademark, as a whole had to be considered.
If the product with
a deceptively similar word mark, packaging and get up for same class of
purchaser trading through same channel was introduced, it would amount to
passing off even if only a few essential features were common in the word mark;
and prior user tilted the balance of convenience in their favour. This was the
basic contentions of the Plaintiff which were canvassed by them before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi while advancing their argument before the Hon’ble
High Court of Delhi.
The Defendant raised various contention inter-alia emphasizing on
the non-disclosure of disclaimer the defendant submitted that ‘disclaimer’,
being a non-distinctive character, serve no trademark function. The defendant
further contended :non-disclosure of disclaimer, a material fact, made the suit
liable for dismissal; trademark and goods for which the trademark was applied
were two different things; the expression ‘WHIP TOPPING’ was a generic term and
also the name of the product, thus no exclusivity could be claimed;
All these issued were dealt with by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi.
The court admitted that plaintiffs were the prior user of the trademark RICH’S
WHIP TOPPING and that their trademark was registered prior to that of the
defendant. Taking notice of the non-disclosure of disclaimer by the petitioners
it held : the expression WHIP TOPPING had become descriptive of the product;
WHIP TOPPING by itself was not a registered trademark. Plaintiffs had registered
‘RICH’S’ and ‘RICH’S WHIP TOPPING’; Plaintiffs did not have exclusivity over the
expression WHIP TOPPING and also the trademark was somewhat descriptive of the
product itself; the distinctive features in the plaintiffs' trade mark and the
defendant's trademark were the word RICH'S and word BELLS.
The court held that there was no infringement and no passing off the
defendant’s product as that of the plaintiffs. Finding the presentation of
packaging to be different it held that there was no similarity between the two
marks. The court refused to any relief to the plaintiff.
The Supreme Court’s proposition the principles being that the words must be
compared as a whole and while comparing the marks, greater regard should be paid
to the uncommon element in the two marks and upon such comparison if it is found
that the uncommon elements are so dissimilar as cannot be confused with each
other, then the conclusion would be that the marks are not deceptively
similar, today has become the guiding principle to deal with such issue.
putting this dictat conversely, it becomes clear that if a comparison of the
uncommon elements reveals that there is a likelihood of deception and/or
similarity, then it can be clearly established that the marks are deceptively
It is important to mentioned here that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, while
observing the Plaintiff to proprietor to its subject matter trademark , has
refused to recognize its right in the part of common element. The finding is as
While it cannot be denied that the plaintiff has a proprietary right in the
trade mark RICH‟S WHIP TOPPING in relation to goods referred to in the plaint.
And these rights obtain both with respect to those conferred upon the plaintiff
under the Trade Marks Act as well as under common law. The rights of the
plaintiffs do not extend to a part of the trade mark, i.e., WHIP TOPPING.
Rights in the entire or whole does not necessarily translate into a right in a
part of the trade mark - as in this case
The court, while dealing with the issue of trans-border reputation and issue of
secondary significance, observed the finding as under:
The plaintiff has not been able to discharge its onus with respect to trade
mark RICH‟S WHIP TOPPING with obvious emphasis on WHIP TOPPING has acquired
secondary distinctive meaning and, therefore, trans border reputation. The
plaintiffs on their own accord having accepted the limitation both in USA and
New Zealand with respect to the exclusive right to use the word TOPPING and
WHIP TOPPING - both of which form part of its registered trade mark RICH‟S
WHIP TOPPING. Similarly, in India the plaintiff has accepted disclaimer in
respect of letter „S‟ and the word „Topping‟ once again as part of its trade
mark RICH‟S WHIP TOPPING.
Though it is well settled proposition of law that while comparing the two
trademarks, the essential features has to be seen. The true test is that the
trademark has to be compared as a whole. The crux is that the court normally
disregard the common element available in both the trademarks while examining
the deceptively similarity and the uncommon element plays important role in this
regard. Ultimately the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi dismissed the suit.
Written By: Ajay Amitabh Suman
- 1970 AIR(SC) 2062
- 2002 (25) PTC 563
- 1994 (14) PTC 260
- IA.No. 1607/2004 In Cs(Os) 246/2004
- Remidex Pharma Private Limited v Savita Pharmaceuticals P. Limited and Anr
2006 (33) PTC 157
, Advocate, Hon’ble High Court Of Delhi