Case update: ITC Limited Virginia House & Ors v Britannia Industries Ltd.

Decided on 08.11.2023 | MADRAS HIGH COURT

O.S.A.(CAD)Nos.134 to 138 of 2023

In ITC Limited Virginia House & Ors v Britannia Industries Ltd.the Court highlighted the importance of safeguarding intellectual property in the consumer goods industry emphasizing the need for fair competition and the prevention of market confusion.

Facts:

Britannia Industries Limited, a leading food company in India, filed a suit against Sunfeast, alleging that Sunfeast was selling its products under the brand name “Mom’s Magic” in a blue wrapper that is identical to Britannia’s blue wrapper for its Good Day Butter Cookies.

Britannia claimed that this was a deliberate attempt by Sunfeast to cash in on Britannia’s goodwill and reputation, and that it was causing confusion among consumers. Britannia sought permanent injunctions to prevent Sunfeast from using the blue wrapper, as well as damages.

 

Sunfeast Mom’s Magic (new packaging)

Brittannia Good Day

 

Sunfeast, the defendant in the case, is a leading company with a strong presence in the food industry. It has several well-known brands, including “SUNFEAST”. Sunfeast argued that it had been using the Mom’s Magic trademark since 2014 and had registered it under the applicable laws. The company also claimed that it had been using the red-based wrapper for its Mom’s Magic Butter Cookies since 2020, and it recently changed the colour to blue to align with its packaging colours for Butter Cookies. Sunfeast further argued that the use of blue colour is common for butter and dairy products and that it has not acted dishonestly in adopting its mark, colour scheme, and getup.

 

Sunfeast Mom’s Magic (new packaging)

Sunfeast Mom’s Magic (old packaging)

 

The dispute revolved around whether ITC Limited’s packaging design for their Sunfeast Mom’s Magic Butter Cookies, which featured a blue and yellow colour scheme, was misleadingly similar to Britannia Industries Limited’s trademark. The issue at hand was whether this similarity constituted trademark infringement and passing off.

Judgment:

The Madras High Court ruled in Britannia’s favour, granting an interim injunction prohibiting ITC from selling its butter cookies in blue and yellow packaging. The Court observed that where a prima facie case is made out, an interim injunction should clearly follow. The Court’s decision was based on the following principles of trademark law:

Distinctiveness: A trademark must be distinctive to receive legal protection. The Court recognized that Britannia’s blue and yellow scheme had acquired distinctiveness in the market, becoming closely associated with Britannia’s Butter Cookies in the minds of consumers.

Deceptive Similarity: Trademark infringement occurs when another party uses a mark that is deceptively similar to the protected mark, causing consumer confusion. The Court determined that ITC’s use of a similar colour scheme was likely to mislead consumers into believing their Butter Cookies were Britannia’s, thereby infringing Britannia’s trademark rights.

Passing off: Passing off occurs when a party misrepresents its goods or services as those of another party, deceiving consumers into purchasing them. The Court found that ITC’s adoption of a similar colour scheme and packaging constituted an attempt to exploit Britannia’s established reputation and goodwill.

The Madras High Court’s decision in this case is a significant victory for Britannia Industries Limited. This case serves as a reminder to businesses of the importance of protecting their trademarks and avoiding branding elements that may be similar to those of their competitors.

 

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