Smart strategies to protect your marks inside and outside the courts. Vandana Chatlani reports
Last July, the Supreme Court observed “a disturbing trend” of intellectual property (IP) disputes failing to reach the disposal stage due to lengthy interim orders. The Supreme Court’s remarks were sparked by Delhi High Court’s 50-page interim order in AZ Tech India v Intex Technologies (India) & Anr, which it said appeared to be “virtually a decision on merits of the suit”.
“We wonder whether the high court has thought it proper to write such an exhaustive judgment only because of acceptance of the fact that the interim orders in intellectual property rights matters in Delhi High Court would govern the parties for a long duration of time and disposal of the main suit is a far cry,” observed Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha.
“Decisions that run over 50 pages are expected to reckon not only a thorough analysis of evidence but also offer, at the very least, some finality of an outcome,” says Sujata Chaudhri, the founder of Sujata Chaudhri IP Attorneys. “While granting interim injunctions, courts are expected to take only a first impression view on the merits of the case and not delve into a detailed analysis of evidence.”
Determined to crack down on this culture of delay, the Supreme Court directed Delhi High Court’s registrar-general to report back with the total number of pending IP lawsuits, informing it of the stage of each suit and the period for which injunction and interim orders were issued. The goal was to ensure the speedy disposal of IP disputes.
“The Supreme Court … addressed special areas that contributed most to lawsuits being delayed in the lower courts,” says Vaishali Mittal, a partner at Anand and Anand in Delhi. “For example, it identified trial proceedings and final hearing stages as those more responsible for delaying the life of a lawsuit [and so] … sought very specific data on Delhi High Court’s treatment of lawsuits during these stages.”
Jolted into action, Delhi High Court recently amended its rules and the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018, came into effect on 1 March. “These rules have brought about comprehensive changes in the governing procedure of suits filed under the original jurisdiction of Delhi High Court, all aimed at expeditious disposal of the suits,” says Nirupam Lodha, a partner at Luthra & Luthra in Delhi.
Some of the key changes include:
- Stricter timelines for completion of pleadings and the stipulation that framing of issues, which takes place after completion of pleadings and admission/denial of documents, should not be delayed on account of pendency of interim applications;
- Speeding up the progress of trial by allowing parties to record evidence in premises outside Delhi High Court;
- Allotting parties a fixed time to argue their cases, keeping in mind other matters listed for hearing in a given day;
- Granting the court power to dispose of a suit, once issues are framed, if it is satisfied that no further argument or evidence is required for a decision in the suit;
- The introduction of rules stating that adjournments will be the exception rather than the norm, with consent of parties considered insufficient grounds for an adjournment; and
- Imposition of heavy costs upon a party whose actions cause a delay in the proceeding of suits.
The statute has also made amendments to civil procedural law. As Sudeep Chatterjee, a Delhi-based partner at Singh & Singh, explains, the amended order XV-A of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, requires the court to conduct a case management hearing within four weeks from the date on which issues are framed. “The case management hearing sets a timetable for trial as well as for the final hearing, thus speeding up the disposal rate of trademark suits,” says Chatterjee.
This new framework offers a starting point for oiling other cogs within the court system by creating a benchmark so that a model for the disposal of civil suits may be replicated across the rest of the country.