With the COVID-19 outbreak, the counterfeiting of products and infringement of intellectual property rights has been on an alarming rise at both national as well as international trade level. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed by the governments have caused a severe blow to the global economy, leading to an upward increase in production of counterfeited goods. In such circumstances, it is of paramount importance to ensure protection for (a) consumers, and (b) Intellectual Property Rights of legitimate businesses.
To implement and follow social distancing norms and with the objective of controlling the spread of COVID-19, various products that are necessarily required by masses such as food products, medicines, sanitary products etc are being excessively sold online on E-commerce websites. The consumers are giving more preference to online E-commerce websites over brick and mortar stores for no or minimal physical contact while purchasing goods. This paradigm shift has led to a surge in counterfeiting, taking advantage of the current market dynamics. The gap between demand and supply of useful items (hand soaps, masks, sanitizers etc.) is increasing with time, due to disruption in the supply chain; because of closure of physical stores and excessive reliance on online portals. The perpetrators are filling this gap by introducing counterfeited goods in the market. This act is not only damaging the brand value of business but is also affecting the consumers as they are being deceived into buying spurious goods.
However, the Judiciary has adopted a stringent approach to protect various brand owners by actively passing orders in legal disputes initiated by them, restraining unscrupulous parties from violating the intellectual property rights of brand owners. In one such case, the Delhi High Court in a case titled Reckitt Benckiser v. Mohit Petrochemicals Pvt. Ltd.1 restrained the defendant from using the mark ‘DEVTOL’ for manufacturing and selling hand sanitizers and infringing the Plaintiff’s Well-Known mark ‘DETTOL’. The court further imposed a cost of Rs. 1,00,000 on the defendant and directed it to be deposited in Juvenile Justice Foundation.
The present case is a classic example of how unscrupulous parties/individuals/ companies have attempted to cash upon the goodwill and reputation of well-known trademarks and businesses during these unfortunate times by cheating consumers and reaping unjust benefits.
It is crystal clear that globally the menace of counterfeiting is an all-time high. The unusual surge in the demand of products such as medical goods and other useful goods including sanitary products has provided an ideal atmosphere to unscrupulous parties to sell counterfeit goods at cheaper prices and reap unjust profits. The immediate need of the hour for owners of intellectual property rights is to take legal action against such counterfeiters. It is equally important for law enforcement agencies and the brand owners to spread awareness amongst the general public regarding the rise in counterfeited goods and ways to determine the authenticity of a product at the time of purchase. It is also imperative for the brand-owners to develop a mechanism for reporting any counterfeit product being sold in the market.
With the lockdown being gradually eased globally as well as nationally in India, the need of the hour is strict implementation of Intellectual Property Right laws. In a country like India, where Intellectual Property Law is still a growing jurisprudence, the general public needs to be made aware of the basics of counterfeiting and identification of original goods. With the pitch of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ by our Hon’ble Prime Minister, stringent Intellectual Property laws and its effective implementation can take the initiative forward and put India on the global map with made in India goods being exported all over the globe.