Can phrases be Trademarked?
A huge debate has risen over the phrase: “The Nation Wants to Know”. This also happens to be Arnab Goswami’s catchphrase which he popularized by repeating the words unequivocally during his News Hour debates on Times Now. According to news reports, Arnab has received a notice from his former employer asking him not to use the phrase on his news channel Republic TV alleging that the phrase is their trademark.
It is to be noted that, Arnab’s new company ARG Outlier Media Private Limited (“ARG”) has applied for trademark registration of the phrase the nation wants to know (TM Appl. No. – 3467425) and nation wants to know (TM Appl. No.– 3467428). On the other hand, Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL-the company which owns Times Now News Channel) has applied for trademark registration of the phrase nation wants to know and corresponding logo (TM Appl. Nos. – 3434199 and 3434201).
However, the phrase is likely be rejected on absolute grounds under Section 9(1)(c) of the Indian Trademarks Act, 1999. As per said section, trademark registration should be refused if the trademark consists exclusively of marks which have become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade. There is absolutely no doubt that the phrase under consideration is customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the news industry.
Further, Section 9(1)(c), however, provides an exception, which allows for registration of such phrases. For such phrases/marks to be registered, the phrase should have acquired a distinctive character as a result of its usage before the date of application for registration or the phrase should be a well-known trade mark. But it can be clearly seen that both the companies haven’t prepared sound legal strategies for acquiring monopolistic rights over the phrase. The Application filed by the Times Group states that the phrase is ‘proposed to be used’, whereas they could easily have claimed prior use to prove their distinctiveness, or well- known usage, whereas the Arnab’s channel Republic TV is yet to be operational and hence, obtaining a successful Trademark registration over the said phrase is equally difficult as ARG Outliner Media Pvt. Ltd. cannot take the benefit under exceptions to Section 9(1) (c).
It would, furthermore, be interesting to see as to whether Arnab and Times now settle this dispute amicably or will we get to see one of the fiercest legal battles to have taken place throughout the history of this Nation.