Sucheta Dalal :Trademark disputes in cyberspace
Sucheta Dalal

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Trademark disputes in cyberspace  

March 23, 2000

A case law on trademark disputes in cyberspace is probably being created with the same speed as the technology developments in the business. Interestingly, the biggest and best companies are suing each other, and precedents created by them will hopefully put an end to a lot of hanky-panky in the business. Here are some developments all in the last week.

Cybersquatter vs papersquatters

Few would have noticed the irony of last week's headline in The Times of India. It announced that Bennett, Coleman & Co, which publishes India's largest selling English daily — The Times of India — and The Economic Times had 'created a record of sorts by being the first Indian company to legally evict a cybersquatter through arbitration.'

The same day's edition of The Economic Times carried a supplement insert -- titled 'The Financial Times' which is published by the Times Publishing House Ltd. The Times group had used a legal loophole to register the famous Financial Times trademark in India and prints a supplement by that name at regular intervals to keep its publication rights alive.

The Financial Times had filed litigation against Bennett, Coleman & Co, but has failed to make much headway. As part of the dispute, it scrapped an arrangement with the Indian group allowing news reports published by the London-based financial paper.

Let us juxtapose this with the colourful copy of The Times of India's report on March 19. It says 'Cybersquatters out to grab a well-known trademark had better watch out. The long arm of the law is finally catching up with them.' Bennett Coleman fought its case before the World Intellectual Property Organisation — Arbitration and Mediation Centre to evict the cybersquatter.

Isn't is strange that the long arm of the law is sorting out trademark disputes in cyberspace, while the Indian legal system allows the group to continue using the internationally known print trademark? It is called having the best of both worlds — print and cyberspace.

Investmart vs Investsmart

While on trademark disputes, the other litigation which made waves last week was the battle between two financial institutions over another trademark. Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services, which has a subsidiary called Investsmart India Ltd, had registered the domain name

Days after the company announced Internet trading, another institution, ICICI, registered a similar domain -- The only difference was a little 's'.

ICICI has no content on the site, but merely uses all hits on it to direct traffic to its corporate site. IL&FS moved court, but failed to get an injunction.

An appeal was to be filed this week, but informed sources in the financial world tell me that ICICI is backing out of the battle. It is not yet clear whether the two will file formal consent terms or ICICI will merely release the domain name. What seems certain though is that the war is over barring a few loose ends.

Indiaworld vs Starworld

The battle of trademarks continues in another part of the world. The dispute over the Indiaworld trademark has reached US courts. The same Indiaworld, whose chief Rajesh Jain sold a set of domain names to Satyam Infoway in a record Rs 500 crore two-part deal. The Indiaworld trademark and logo is owned by a US-based company called Starworld, who was once Jain's partner.

Jain and Satyam Infoway have moved court in New York against his former partner and Starworld is planning to counter-sue. Both sides are filing separate litigation and the outcome will be keenly watched by investors to Satyam Infoway's ADRs which are listed in the US.

Jain's company had received a legal notice from Bennett, Coleman & Co several months ago for displaying its news reports on Indiaworld sites such as, etc. However, Jain obtained a legal opinion which said something to the effect that there was nothing to prevent him from using news reports so long as he provided hyperlinks to those sites and did not lift them through a cut and paste job.

Indian newspapers have not challenged this in court and the matter has been allowed to lie so far. But with one victory under its belt, and plans for a big role in the cyberworld, the media house may choose to pursue it further.

-- Sucheta Dalal