Case Study – The Coca Cola Co. v. Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.

Mohammed Farhan C.

Introduction

The Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd., the defendant in this case is a well-known brand in India which is highly regarded for its bottled water. The Coca Cola Co. (i.e. the plaintiff) was assigned the trademark “MAAZA” by the defendant company including the right to formulate, intellectual property rights and also the goodwill associated with the mark on September 12, 1993. By virtue of this, the plaintiff had got the exclusive right to sell the product with the mark “MAAZA” within the territory of India. The defendant company retained the right to sell the products with the mark in other countries.

Later, in 2008, the plaintiff applied for registration of trademark in Turkey.On learning this, the defendant sent a legal notice to the plaintiff repudiating the Licensing Agreement and hereby ceasing the plaintiff from manufacturing MAAZA and using its trademarks etc. directly or indirectly, by itself or through its affiliates. The notice said that the plaintiff had breached the agreement by attempting to register it in Turkey. The notice also put forth the defendant company’s intention to start using the trademark in India again.

This case study will provide you with a better understanding of the famous “Maaza-War” between the two giants of the Beverage Industry of India.

Case study – IRAC (Issues, Rules, Analysis, Conclusion) Method

Issues:

The issue that came up before the Delhi High Court was as follows:

  1. Whether the Delhi High Court has the jurisdiction to take up the matter in this particular case?
  2. Whether the export of the products with the trademark “MAAZA” can be considered as an infringement in the exporting country?
  3. Has there been any infringement of trademark or passing off?
  4. Whether the plaintiff is entitled to get a permanent injunction?

Rules:

With reference to Section 41(h) and (l) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, the suit cannot be barred as there existed a determinable contract between the two parties and thus, the plaintiff was entitled to an injunction in order to enforce their exclusive rights.

The defendant company is not entitled to use the trademark “MAAZA” under Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act, 1962. The Section deals with injunction to perform negative agreement and says that the plaintiff will be entitled to the injunction if they had performed their part of the contract as was binding on them.

Analysis:

Looking at it from the criminal law perspective, IPC has an extra-territorial jurisdiction wherein an offence committed by an Indian citizen on a foreign land will still hold that person liable. Applying this to the case at hand, the Delhi High Court can take up the matter.  Although, the developments were taking place in Turkey, there was a nexus between the manufacture of good in India and the sale in Turkey. Thus, the court had jurisdiction to decide the particular matter. Also, as the manufacture was taking place in India, the court had the jurisdiction.

The Appeal filed by the defendant company against the order was quashed by the Delhi High Court. The court expressly restricted the sale of Maaza products by Bisleri in India. An interim order of injunction was passed against the defendant company preventing the use of the trademark both for sale in India and export goods in order to prevent the plaintiff from suffering irreparable loss and damage.

The plaintiff’s argument that the mark was assigned to and it held exclusive rights for its sale in the subcontinent is only a limited concept as compared to the world wide nature of the Bisleri Company. The Bisleri Company had this mark registered in a number of other countries as well and the court must have interpreted the scope of the mark which Bisleri held widely.

As the manufacture by Bisleri was for the sale in other countries and Bisleri still held the right to sell the product in other countries, the court should have passed an order of injunction only for its sale in India and not for the exports. The Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd. had also registered the mark “MAAZA” worldwide and could sell the product across the globe. The Coca Cola Co. had acquired the trademark for its sale in the Indian subcontinent and suddenly tries to seek it throughout the world. It is unjustified on their part to claim an injunction on the manufacture for exports. The court should have partly allowed the matter with respect to its sale in India.

Conclusion and Suggestions:

The defendant company was right when it sent a notice to the plaintiff regarding the breach and also the company’s intention to restore things back as it was before the agreement. A breach of an agreement must be strictly dealt with. The defendant company should be appreciated for its bold step to send such a strong message that no one can get away with a breach. The court should have upheld the same and must have ruled in favour of the defendants.

As we know that every judge has his own opinion and pronounces the judgment accordingly, the judge in the above case also dealt the case according to his own view.

References:

  1. BrandsandFakes, ‘Case Analysis: Coca-Cola Co. v. Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.’, Apr 12, 2020, https://brandsandfakes.com/case-analysis-coca-cola-co-vs-bisleri-international-pvt-ltd/135/
  2. Shrutika Garg, ‘The Coca Cola Company vs. Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd and Ors’, Apr 12, 2020, https://lexquest.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/COCA-COLA-CASE.pdf
  3. Unimarks Legal, ‘IPR Case Studies – The Maaza War’, Apr 12, 2020, http://www.unimarkslegal.com/trademark-registration/ipr-case-studies-maaza-war/
  4. Kala Vijayraghavan, ‘Maaza War: Coke takes Bisleri to court’, Nov, 06, 2008, Apr 12. 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/food/maaza-war-coke-takes-bisleri-to-court/articleshow/3678955.cms
  5. The Coca-Cola Company vs Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.,Manu/DE/2698/2009