KSRTC: The End of a Legal Battle or the Beginning of Another?
In this COVID Pandemic, we have seen states fighting among themselves for tangible assets, be it ventilator beds, oxygen gas cylinders, or medicines that work for the outbreak of pandemic. This is not the first incident of differences between the states. Before this, we have seen states fighting among themselves on many issues. Whether, it is the fight for the Belgaum border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka, or the differences between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the Kaveri River or the battle between Karnataka and Andra Pradesh over the Krishna River. Incidentally, the state of Karnataka is common among the above examples. It must have been clear from the previous statement that here we will also talk about state of Karnataka.
So far we have talked about differences between states on tangible property, but have you ever thought that these states can also fight over the intangible property like intellectual property? If you have not thought, then let me tell you that even states can fight among themselves over intellectual property; after all, it is also an asset. And if you are thinking about this for the first time, then let me tell you that this is not a new incident. Earlier we have seen Odisha and Bengal fighting for the GI tag on Rasagola/ Rasogolla, apart from this we have seen Punjab and Madhya Pradesh fighting over the GI tag of Basmati rice.
It has been learned from the above two paragraphs that here we will discuss differences between the states, which will be about the difference of Karnataka with another state regarding intellectual property. So let me introduce you to the root of this article. Actually, this article is about the fight between Karnataka and Kerala that started 7 years ago over the use of the trademark “KSRTC”.
What happened confused whether “KSRTC” is referring to Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation or Kerala State Road Transport Corporation? Never mind, you are not the only one who got confused by this. Any ordinary person can get confused about such an identical and similar trademark.
So when and how did this fight start?
And now the important thing is to know when and how this fight started. The fight actually started in 2014 when Karnataka sent a legal notice to Kerala not to use the mark “KSRTC”. Karnataka says that the mark “KSRTC” belongs to them and they were suing the mark since 01/11/1973. They further put an argument that they have also filed an application to register the word mark “KSRTC” in 2012. Along with the word mark “KSRTC” (bearing application number 2327807) the Karnataka has filed four more applications under class 39 for registration of device marks containing the acronym “KSRTC”. The registration certificate for the word mark “KSRTC” was issued in 2017.
What steps were taken by Kerala to claim proprietorship over mark “KSRTC”?
Meanwhile in 2015, Kerala also filed a trademark application (App. No. 2931129) to register the word mark “KSRTC”. Since the word mark “KSRTC” has already been filled by Karnataka, the Examination Report of the application no. 2931129 cited the mark filed by Karnataka. As a result, an objection was raised under S 11 (1) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 that the applicant’s (Kerala RTC) mark is identical and similar to the mark already on record of the register for the same or similar goods/services.
Kerala’s replies to the objection
To overcome the objection, Kerala in his reply to the examination report states that they are a prior user of the mark “KSRTC” and is continuously using the mark since the incorporation of Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) in the year 1965. They further highlighted that the cited word mark “KSRTC” bearing application number 2327807 claims usage of the mark from 1973. Thus they have a legitimate and superior right over the mark KSRTC by virtue of Section 34 of the Trade Mark Act, 1999.
So what you think who would have own the mark “KSRTC”?
Interestingly, as per the data available on the Trademark Registry, neither Kerala opposed the Karnataka Trademark Application for registering mark “KSRTC” nor did Karnataka oppose the Kerala Trademark Application for the mark “KSRTC” filed under the same class for the same kinds of services offered.
Recently, it was in the news that Kerala has won the trademark battle for “KSRTC” against Karnataka. Kerala has claimed that Trademark Registry has given them the right to use the mark “KSRTC”. However, Karnataka has vehemently denied any such order and said that they will be in a better position to answer when they get any official communication on this subject. Further, in many news articles, it was reported that Kerala has filed rectification application against the registration of mark “KSRTC” by Karnataka and the rectification application was still pending at IPAB which will be transferred to the High Court.
In this way, Karnataka’s claim that they have not received any official communication and that no data is available on the trademark registry also creates a kind of ambiguity as to whether the registry has allowed Kerala to use the “KSRTC” mark or to propagate that they had won this legal battle was Kerala’s only strategy. So at the end the question remains unanswered that whether the legal battle that started in 2014 has ended in favour of Kerala or the pending rectification application at IPAB will instigate another legal battle.