FMCG GIANTS BATTLE IT OUT AMIDST THE PANDEMIC OUTBREAK.

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Lifebuoy soap manufacturing Hindustan Unilever Limited (“Plaintiff”) took Dettol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd. (“Defendant”) to the Hon’ble Bombay High Court for its most recent commercial (“Impugned Commercial”) for disparagement and infringement of its trademark and copyright.

The Plaintiff has from January 2020 taken steps to communicate good hygiene as a public awareness initiative and has made clear that good hygiene comes from frequent and regular washing of hands and has not limited the communication to its own product alone.

It had also aired a commercial wherein a doctor informed an ill child’s mother of the benefits of washing hands using lifebuoy soap.

It is alleged by the Plaintiff that the Impugned Commercial by the Defendant is a blatant copy of its advertisement and portrays that washing hands with a soap bar (note – the soap in the Impugned Commercial was identically resembling a standard lifebuoy red coloured soap bar) is ineffective and it is best to use a Dettol hand wash to stay clean of germs in this pandemic situation.

The Plaintiff has sought damages (general, special and exemplary) worth Rs. 1 crore.

After the Defendant said that the Impugned Commercial would be suspended for the time being, the Hon’ble Judge by order dated 20th March, 2020, adjourned the matter till 20th April, 2020.

The aforementioned parties have a notable history of litigation, some of the cases are mentioned hereunder –

  1. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court had addressed similar contentions (i.e. red colour soap, 10 times more efficacious, etc.) as are raised in the aforementioned matter and had ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd.
  2. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court had ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd. by awarding punitive damages and also restraining the issuing or telecasting of the commercial in a case for disparagement and/or denigrating advertising. The matter went in appeal and the order passed can be read here.
  3. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court had ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd. by restraining the telecasting of the commercial and from inserting or adding any such kind of piece/feature in the advertisement which would otherwise directly or indirectly result in disparaging the product of the plaintiff till the final disposal of the case at hand.
  4. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court had ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd. and held that a prima facie case was made out by the plaintiff and demonstrated that the irreparable injury and balance of convenience lies with it. Therefore, an order was passed restraining the defendant from publishing the impugned advertisement or any other similar advertisement or depiction aimed at disparaging the goodwill and reputation of the plaintiff’s brand in all media including print and/or electronic media.
  5. The Hon’ble Calcutta High Court had ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser India Pvt. Ltd. restraining the defendant from showing the advertisement(s) or any version or adaptation thereof in any form of media until disposal of the suit.

Image source – from here

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