A recent legal tussle between German medical equipment giant VBM Medizintechnik GMBH and Indian entity VBM India Co (VBMIC) owned by Geetan Luthra, was filed in Delhi High Court has grabbed attention.
The plaintiff German company was founded in Germany in 1981by Mr Volker Bertram. It was engaged in manufacturing and marketing of medical equipment under VBM trademark of Class 10 while the VBM India Company dealt with equipment manufactured by the plaintiff as distributors as well as those produced by the third party.
On September 25, 2023, the Delhi High Court weighed in on the matter, dismissing Luthra’s divine defense and granting interim relief to the German company. Let’s break down the legal complexity of this intriguing case.
VBM Medizintechnik alleged trademark violation, asserting that ‘VBM’ stood for “Mr. Volker Bertram Medical,” leading to market confusion. However, Luthra’s defense, attributing the acronym to Hindu gods, failed to convince the court as there was no document on record to support the contention. Justice C Hari Shankar deemed the explanation too facile and lacking in legal substance.
The court analysed Section 33(1) of the Trade Marks Act, emphasizing the principle of ‘acquiescence’ and the requirement of good faith during trademark registration. Luthra’s failure to provide supporting documentation for the ‘holy trinity’ defense raised doubts about the intention to create confusion in the market. The court highlighted VBMIC’s previous role as the exclusive distributor for VBM Medizintechnik and the refusal to transfer the ‘VBM’ device mark registration played a pivotal role in terminating their distribution agreement.
Examining the trademark landscape, the court noted VBMIC’s reluctance to include ‘India’ in its device mark and the striking similarity between the marks, hinting at an attempt to pass off products as those of the German company. The court concluded that Luthra’s actions lacked the good faith required by Section 33(1), emphasizing the importance of honesty in trademark matters.
The case raises questions about using names associated with gods in trademarks. While there’s no strict ban, challenges exist, with courts showing varying stances. In this instance, the defendants’ far-fetched claim of deriving the acronym from Hindu gods aimed to use religious origins as a defense. The court’s dismissal prevented a potential precedent for justifying acronyms with connections to numerous Indian gods.
The court’s careful examination of the case showcases the importance of transparency and good faith in the complex world of trademark disputes. The court held that the defendant cannot use “VBM” in its company name for medical equipment or related goods and services. However, they are allowed to sell their existing stock and continue dealing with equipment from other brands. If they sell equipment from other manufacturers, they must use the original brand name and cannot indicate any connection to “VBM” in any way. In conclusion, the ‘VBM’ trademark battle serves as a reminder that while divine inspiration may have its place, it must coexist harmoniously with legal principles when it comes to trademarks and intellectual property.