Letter Mark as Trademark

Lettermark is a type of a logo; however, it is not a logo mark in itself. A letter mark is a uniquely illustrated abbreviation of a business name. For e.g. HBO, IBM, CNN, HP. These are very straight forward; however other lettermark logos take a more unique approach by not just depicting the letters, but also by simultaneously referencing an idea relevant to the business. For e.g. Pureit, Pizza Hut, Café Coffee Day, Post-it.

Definition of a Lettermark

Lettermarks are typographic in nature comprised of letters that are usually company initials. Lettermarks are effective at streamlining any company/brand if they have long name. It is very important that the logo is not just theme-based but also legible when printed on business cards.

The Trademark Act, 1999 evidently recognizes a trademark constituted by a “letter”.  The law indicates that trademark is a sign capable of distinction and helps identify certain goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise.

Letters that are descriptive, customary in the trade or devoid of any distinctive character are not registered as trademark. Section 29 of the Trademark Act 1999 talks about various aspects related to infringement.

It says that a registered trade mark is infringed by a person who, not being a registered proprietor or a person using by way of permitted use, uses in the course of trade, a mark which is identical with, or deceptively similar to, the trade mark in relation to goods or services in respect of which the trade mark is registered and in such manner as to render the use of the mark likely to be taken as being used as a trade mark.

There can be a case of similar marks being deceptive when concerned. The lettermark cannot be just a suffix or a prefix. It basically talks about the type of business the company is into and also the section of consumers it caters to.

Court Rulings

In P.P. Jewellers Pvt. Ltd. V.s P.P. Buildwell Pvt. Ltd. the court has convincingly and fairly exhibited the rationale in the case. 'PP Jewellers Pvt. Ltd.' filed a suit for infringement of trademark against the defendants, 'PP Buildwell Pvt. Ltd.', regarding the use of the mark 'PP' by the defendants.

PP Buildwell Ltd., allegedly, had acquired a trademark over the letters 'PP' by way of continuous and extensive use of the same in their trade practices. It was claimed by PP Jewellers Pvt. Ltd. that PP Buildwell's use of the said mark was an infringement on their formidable reputation and goodwill in the said mark and further, that PP Buildwell are guilty of passing off.

PP Jewellers Ltd alleged that the PP Buildwell Pvt Ltd. have, by adopting the letter mark 'PP' as part of their corporate names, passed off their services as that being offered by the PP Jewellers Ltd .

The court was of the opinion that the simple fact that PP Buildwell Pvt. Ltd. added a suffix to the letters 'PP' meant that they had no mala fide intention to defraud or confuse consumers. The added material in the form of 'Buildwell' or 'Mall' or 'Shopping Mall' were sufficient to distinguish the PP Buildwell Pvt Ltd marks from that of the PP Jewellers Ltd.

They also stated that they had entered the construction business and as such the chances of a customer mistaking one company for the other was real possibility. The Court adjudged that PP Jewellers Ltd. used the mark 'PP' as a mere prefix for their commercial products.

The actual mark used by the plaintiffs was a combination of the letters PP and the name of the business viz. PP Jewellers or PPJ. Hence, the Court opined that 'the letters 'PP' when not supplanted by the business name would not acquire a connotation entitling such a mark protection from infringement.' 

In other words, the letter mark 'PP' was not subject to trademark protection under Sec. 29 of the Trademarks Act, 1999. The Court relied upon this fact to hold that the term 'PP' per se would not constitute an 'essential feature' of the mark and as such merely the use of the term, 'PP' by 'PP Buildwell Pvt. Ltd.' would not institute an infringement.

Moreover, the Court found that profile of the customers to which the two parties cater to are different. PP Buildwell, being builders, cater to customers from the higher strata of the society who are expected to be educated and intelligent enough to distinguish the defendant's company from the plaintiff.

Also, the degree of care, expected to be exercised by a customer while seeking commercial places is high, and as such, passing off is highly unlikely .In this view, the Court held, that there was nothing distinctive about the letters 'PP' themselves, and therefore, a relief on the virtue of the letter mark itself cannot be granted.

The Division Bench judgement of the Delhi High Court in B.K. Engineering Company, Delhi Vs. U.B.H.I. Enterprises (Regd.), Ludhiana and another held that trademark “BK” is a word of device, which is distinctive of plaintiff’s goods. The manufacturers name B.K. Engineering Co. and the house mark ‘B.K’ is both descriptive and distinctive name, commercially speaking. This is clear from the advertisements and cartoons of the plaintiffs’ product in this suit.

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