In a huge blow to the Japanese auto major Toyota has lost a legal battle in the Supreme Court against the use of the 'Prius' trademark in India. The apex court found that 'Prius Auto Industries', an auto spare part maker, had acquired the right to use 'Prius' trademark in India in 2002, while Toyota only launched the hybrid sedan in 2010. Toyota had filed a suit against Prius in the Delhi High Court back in 2009, 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.
Toyota claimed that advertisements and news reports about its 'Prius' model had made it a well-known trademark. Therefore, it approached the Trade Mark Registry for cancellation of the registered trade mark of the defendants and also filed the suit in question. However, 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. As the product itself was not in existence in the market, it was impossible for the people of India to identify or associate with any of the products.
As a parting shot, the SC 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.
"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."
The Supreme Court Bench of Justice was headed by Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha. Senior Advocate P Chidambaram appeared for Toyota, while advocate Sai Krishna argued for Prius Auto Industries.