Just when you thought that the head of the Indian patent and trademark office had chased away the last odours of corruption from his organisation, one of his trademark registrars is arrested by government investigators for possessing 3.8kg of gold and ten million rupees – assets that are allegedly far disproportionate to her known income.

The home of ND Kasturi, a deputy registrar of trademarks at the Indian office, was searched last week. Kasturi was found to own six apartments across several cities, in addition to the high-worth valuables and cash. The allegations of corruption laid against the deputy registrar of trademarks could be tied to the removal of the MANJAL mark from the trademark register, as reported on SpicyIP. Press reports reveal that files relating to this case were seized from Kasturi’s house by anti-corruption investigators. So what are foreign brand owners to make of this? If the Central Bureau of Investigation’s allegations are proved, and Kasturi has been misappropriating funds or taking bribes, is it an isolated incident or does it indicate systemic failures in Kurian’s administration?

One Indian source told WTR that the arrest adds weight to the fear that corruption is “deep-rooted” in the trademark registry: “This has been previously voiced by practitioners– that certain law firms and practitioners are benefiting from the current state of affairs, whereas those that do not want to be part of this see no progress of their matters or cases.”

Indian counsel publicly are keen to dispel any negative feelings towards the registry. Without commenting on any individual or specific matter, Safir Anand, senior partner at Anand and Anand, told WTR: “I believe that any action that cleans a system and provides a level playing field (merit-based) is welcome.”

Anand raises a good point: whatever the outcome of the Kasturi investigation, it is likely to inspire Kurian and colleagues to continue their run of improving the office. Kurian is seen as a positive force who has modernised the office and streamlined its running. In particular, documents and status reports are being made available online. This is certainly what foreign brand owners would expect to see. The Indian market is maturing at a great pace, and huge brand presence is already enjoyed by many Western brands, including Nestlé and Coca-Cola. One billion potential consumers in a single market is a mouth-watering draw for any brand.

And so it is no surprise that Indian counsel argue that the Kasturi case won’t be a setback to the Indian trademark office. “On the contrary,” Anand said, “it is likely to improve the system as by and large the registry is doing well. The action will address the purpose of accountability and transparency.”

But the Kasturi case shows that these principles may be unattainable for some time yet. As one Indian practitioner put it today: “In the absence of manpower and willingness of current staff to move things, the system is rotting.”


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