Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp lost a legal battle to spare parts manufacturer, called M/S Prius Auto Industries & Ors, for trademark infringement. Toyota will not be able to sell its hybrid car in India with the moniker 'Prius'.
The company launched Prius back in 1997; however, it registered the name only in 2010 in India. The Haryana based Prius Auto though registered the name in 2001. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that trademark rights are territorial, not global, thereby dismissing a trademark case brought by Toyota.
While Toyota maintained that they were the first to register the name in the world - trademarked in Japan in 1990 - they did not register it in India until 2010. This was the undoing of the company as the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Prius Auto Industries.
Toyota stated that advertisements and news reports about its 'Prius' model had made it a well-recognised trademark. Hence, the company reached out to the Trade Mark Registry for the cancellation of the registered trademark of Prius Auto and also filed the suit.
However, Prius Auto argued that it had built up a notable market reputation over a period, and was even operating before Toyota started to sell the model in India. Also, as the Prius model was not in the market, it was impossible for the people of India to identify or connect with any of the products.
As per Carandbike.com, the Supreme Court criticised the plaintiff stating that despite the Prius model was launched in 2009; they delayed in filing the litigation.
"We cannot help but also to observe that in the present case the plaintiff's delayed approach to the Courts has remained unexplained. Such delay cannot be allowed to work to the prejudice of the defendants who had kept on using its registered mark to market its goods during the inordinately long period of silence maintained by the plaintiff."
While Senior Advocate P Chidambaram appeared for Toyota, advocate Sai Krishna argued for Prius Auto Industries. The Supreme Court Bench of Justice was headed by Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha.
Global car manufacturers will henceforth need to register all of their trademarks ahead of the launch of their products in India. Toyota might have lost the battle, but this is indeed a learning for other car manufacturers to understand the legalities in India.