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TATA Vs Puro: Delhi HC's Dismissal of interim Application alleging dispargement

Tata vs. Puro: Delhi HC’s Dismissal of Interim Application Alleging Disparagement

On October 10, 2023, the Delhi High Court in the case titled Tata Sons Private Limited & Anr. Vs. Puro Wellness Private Limited & Anr.[1] refused to issue an interim injunction against a commercial aired by Puro Wellness (“Defendants”) for advertising its pink-colored salt in a suit filed by Tata (“Plaintiff”) alleging commercial disparaging of its white salt. The court dismissed the Applicant’s interim application, stating that, “Tata has failed to make out any prima facie case justifying interference with continued broadcasting of the impugned commercial”.

By way of background, the Plaintiff filed a suit in the Delhi High Court alleging that as per Regulation 4(7) of the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018 (“Regulations”), the Defendant is not allowed to advertise its salt as “healthy”. It was pointed out by the Plaintiff that as regards the Regulations, “They require that if in advertising a product, words such as “natural”, “fresh”, “pure”, “original”, “traditional”, “authentic”, “genuine” or “real” are used in such a way as to mislead the consumer regarding the nature of the product, a disclaimer would also be entered on the reverse of the pack, stating that the expression concerned was merely being used as a brand name or trade mark, and did not represent the true nature or characteristic of the product.” It was further alleged by Plaintiff that Defendant’s commercial has a misleading expression towards all white salt including TATA Salt which instills a feeling of apprehension and fear among the consumers which can lead them to believe that consuming white salt is harmful to their health as it involves bleaching (which involves oxidation through agents such as chlorine or hydrogen peroxide). It was argued that the impugned commercial clearly showed Puro salt alongside white salt, thus disparaging all brands of white salt in general.

The counsel for Defendant contended that Plaintiff’s allegation as regards Regulation 4(7) of the Regulations is misconceived as no such misleading impression was conveyed by any expression. It was further contended that all the statements that were made in the commercial were with respect to the Defendant’s product. It was further highlighted that “the impugned commercial merely conformed to the manner in which rock salt was customarily advertised and promoted”.

The court observed that the Defendant’s product is a registered trademark and not under any challenge. It was further asserted that “Section 28(1) of the Trade Marks Act permits the holder of a registered trademark to use the mark commercially, subject only to other provisions of the Trade Marks Act itself.” Therefore, the Plaintiff’s right to advertise and sell its products as ‘Puro Healthy Salt’ cannot be disputed due to the lack of any challenge to the registration of the mark. It was further observed that Regulation 4 (7) does not cover the expression ‘healthy’ within its ambit stating that, “What is prohibited is the use of the said expressions in a manner which “is likely to mislead consumers as to the nature of food”. Tata does not even plead, in the suit, that Puro Healthy Salt is not healthy. In the absence of any such pleading, the use of “healthy” by Puro for its Pink Salt cannot be said to mislead the consumer in any way. The use of the expression does not, therefore, violate Regulation 4(7).”

The court further opined that Plaintiff was drawing negative assertions about its product based on the positive assertions made by Defendant. While placing reliance in the case of Puro Wellness Pvt. Ltd. v. Tata Chemicals Ltd.,[2] the court asserted that “when the very same allegations and assertions, leveled directly against white salt, had been found by the Division Bench of this Court in Tata Chemicals Ltd. Case (supra) as not to be disparaging of Tata’s product, then how Tata can expect this Court to return a finding of disparagement, especially at a prima facie stage”.

The court finally held that the Defendant’s impugned commercial advertisement does not disparage white salt in general (let alone Tata’s white salt). The court finally observed that – “The impugned commercial is, therefore, in my considered opinion, well within the boundaries of what is permissible in comparative advertising. If a commercial as innocuous as this is to be injuncted, one may as well completely do away with the concept of comparative advertising altogether. It is difficult to envisage comparative advertising being undertaken in a manner which is more innocuous than what Puro has done.”

[1]  CS(OS) 582/2023

[2] 2019 SCC OnLine Del 10766

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