Japanese automaker Toyota has finally lost the legal battle in the Supreme Court against the use of the 'Prius' trademark in India. According to the court, the 'Prius Auto Industries', an auto spare part maker, had acquired the right to use 'Prius' trademark in India in 2002, while Toyota launched the hybrid sedan in 2010 only. Back in 2009, Toyota had filed a suit against Prius in the Delhi High Court claiming that the goods manufactured and sold by the defendants bore the plaintiff's registered 'Toyota', 'Toyota Innova', 'Toyota Device' and 'Prius' trademarks, thereby resulting in infringement of these trademarks.
The Supreme Court Bench of Justice was headed by Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha. While Senior Advocate P Chidambaram appeared for Toyota, advocate Sai Krishna argued for Prius Auto Industries. Although, Toyota claimed that advertisements and news reports about its 'Prius' model had made it a well-known trademark, hence the automaker approached the Trade Mark Registry for cancellation of the registered trade mark of the defendants and also filed the suit in question. Arguing the claims, Prius Auto Industries argued that it has built up a significant market reputation over a period of time, and were operating even before the model was sold in India. In their favor they also said that as the product it was not in existence in the market, it was impossible for the people of India to identify or associate with any of the products.
Apart from the judgment, the Supreme Court also criticized the plaintiff's delay in filing litigation, given that the suit was filed only in 2009, just after the Prius model was launched in India. It said, "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."
Although, the Toyota Prius hybrid has been on sale in Japan since 1997 but in India it was launched only in 2010. However, according to the SC, a single article by local media regarding the international launch of the vehicle in 1997 does not account to acquisition of any goodwill or fan following for the brand in the country. Also, the knowledge of the Prius is not even prominent among the Indian populace except for a small section of auto enthusiasts; hence, the Judges also ruled this claim by the automaker giving the judgment in the favor of Prius Auto Industries.