Facts of the Case:
Schloss HMA Pvt. Ltd.,
the applicant/plaintiff, filed a suit and an
application for interim reliefs in the Bombay High Court, alleging that Sandeep
Reddy, the defendant, infringed upon their registered trademark "LEELA" and
engaged in passing off. The plaintiff claimed that they have been using the mark
since 1986 in connection with their hospitality services, and they hold several
registered trademarks associated with the mark "LEELA."
The defendant, on the other hand, argued that they have been using the mark "ANANTARA
BY LEELA" since 2014 and that their services are distinct from those of the
plaintiff. The court allowed the leave petition to combine the causes of action
and considered the plaintiff's application for interim relief.
Court: Bombay High Court
Bench: Justice Manish Pitale
Date: 5 April 2023
- Whether the defendant's use of the mark "ANANTARA BY LEELA" constitutes
trademark infringement and passing off.
- Whether the plaintiff is entitled to interim reliefs to protect their
proprietary rights in the mark "LEELA."
The senior counsel for the plaintiff argued that they have established their
rights in the mark "LEELA" through continuous use since 1986 and subsequent
trademark registrations. They presented evidence of their registered trademarks
and claimed immense goodwill associated with the mark. The plaintiff contended
that the defendant's use of the mark "ANANTARA BY LEELA" is likely to cause
confusion among customers, as it resembles their registered trademarks. They
also raised concerns about dilution of their trademark rights.
The defendant's counsel countered the plaintiff's claims by asserting that their
use of the mark "ANANTARA BY LEELA" is distinct from the plaintiff's services.
They claimed that their establishment, the Leela Convention Hall, primarily
serves as a standalone convention hall for middle and lower-middle-class
customers, while the plaintiff operates hotels and other high-end hospitality
services. The defendant argued that there is no likelihood of confusion or
infringement, as their customers and services are different.
The court examined the plaintiff's registered trademarks and emphasized that the
word "LEELA" is a central and essential feature of their mark. It rejected the
defendant's argument that the plaintiff's trademark, which includes the prefix
"THE," would prevent them from asserting their rights against the defendant. The
court noted that the plaintiff's registrations and continuous use of the mark
entitled them to protection under the Trademarks Act, 1999. It also considered
Section 29(4) of the Act, which addresses infringement when a similar mark is
used in connection with different goods or services that may harm the
distinctive character or reputation of the registered trademark.
Based on the evidence and arguments presented, the court found that the
plaintiff had established their proprietary rights in the mark "LEELA" and that
the defendant's use of the mark "ANANTARA BY LEELA" could potentially lead to
confusion among customers. It disregarded the defendant's claim that their
services were distinct, as online presence and advertising indicated
accessibility to a broader customer base.
The court also rejected the defendant's argument regarding the proprietor's name
being "Leela," as protection under the Trademarks Act only extends to the
business owner's name. Considering the plaintiff's reputation, the court
determined that the defendant's use of the mark could be detrimental to the
distinctive character and reputation of the plaintiff's trademark, falling under
Section 29(4) of the Act.
The court granted the plaintiff's application for interim relief, acknowledging
the plaintiff's established rights in the mark "LEELA" and the potential harm
that could arise from the defendant's use of the mark "ANANTARA BY LEELA." This
decision reflects the court's commitment to protecting trademark rights and
preventing confusion among consumers.
The grant of interim relief provides temporary protection to the plaintiff's
trademark while the case proceeds, ensuring that their goodwill and reputation
are safeguarded. It also highlights the significance of trademark registrations
and continuous use in establishing and enforcing proprietary rights. This
decision sets a precedent for similar cases involving trademark infringement and
passing off, emphasizing the importance of protecting the distinctive character
and reputation of registered trademarks.