Recurring tyre dispute shines spotlight on the strength of proprietary rights
In a recent decision on a passing-off action (Apollo Tyres Limited v Pioneer Trading Corporation & Ors CS(COMM) 594/2022) that echoed a dispute between identical parties in 2017, the Delhi High Court has recognised once again that proprietary rights can vest in a tyre tread pattern. This confirms an interim injunction motion secured by Apollo Tyres – a leading global tyre manufacturer – which was issued in August 2022 and which prevented the defendants from passing off the company’s unique tread pattern with regard to its ENDURACE LD 10.00 R20 truck tyres.
In 2015, Apollo Tyres approached the Delhi High Court against the same defendants – Pioneer Trading Corporation and Sativinder Singh Chadha – which were manufacturing and importing, through a Chinese entity, tyres that bore a tread pattern identical to that of Apollo Tyres’ ENDURACE LD 10.00 R20 truck tyre.
The Delhi High Court, vide a detailed judgement dated 17 August 2017, held tread patterns in a tyre to be source indicators and confirmed Apollo Tyres’ motion for an interim injunction. In its analysis of whether tyre grooves/treads were functional in nature, the court concluded that since the same functionality could be achieved by other means, the defendants were guilty of passing off their tyre tread as those of the plaintiff.
Thereafter, the parties entered a settlement wherein the defendants unequivocally admitted and acknowledged Apollo Tyres’ common law rights in its unique tread pattern and agreed to refrain from using the impugned tread pattern and any other tread pattern identical or similar on its products.
The 2022 suit
In the most recent suit, the defendants’ primary contentions before the court were that there were no discernible similarities between the competing tread patterns and that the adoption of the new tread pattern could not be considered a breach of the established settlement agreement.
In its detailed analysis of the issue, the Delhi High Court compared the competing tread patterns and held that the placement of their various cubes/pieces were identical, noting that the only difference lied in the nature of the cuts/incisions on the cubes. Further, the court deemed that the defendants had only made minute changes in the impugned tread pattern. Consequently, it rejected the defendants’ contention that such changes should be treated as compliant with the previous ruling.
The High Court also addressed the defendant’s secondary contention that Apollo Tyres’ filed designs for the tyre tread patterns in question lacked the distinctiveness needed to act as a trademark. The court decided this contention would need to be addressed in the form of a trial, and the defendant subsequently withdrew it.
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