The Exclusivity of Brand Taglines

Brand taglines are catch phrases which serve to draw a connection for consumers with the business’ products and services, and the concerned brand in general. A particular sequence of words repetitively used in the promotion of a brand or business in relation to its products and services often finds a place in the associative memory of the public. For example, when coming across the catch phrase “Finger lookin’ good”, one is instantly reminded of KFC’s sumptuous range of food products.Similarly, the tagline “Just Do It” is commonly associated with the brand NIKE and the phrase, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard” connotes a connection with Mastercard.

Taglines are primarily used for advertising as they are memorable, differentiate the brand and impart certain emotions regarding the brand. The said exclusive association also flows from the mere mention of the brand, for example when one refers to Mc’donalds, the phrase “I’m Lovin’ It” automatically comes to mind, thereby indicating that some sort of intangible ownership of the particular phrase exists. This short note will attempt to elucidate upon whether and if so, what type of intellectual property protection is accorded to taglines or trade slogans with specific reference to the Indian context.

Scope of Brand Taglines as Trademarks

Section 2(m) of the Trademarks Act, 1999 defines “mark” as including a device, brand, heading, label, ticket, name, signature, word, letter, numeral, shape of goods, packaging or combination of colours or any combination thereof. It is seen that the legislation provides for a tagline or combination of words to be included within the ambit of the definition of mark.

Trademark is defined under the Act as a mark capable of being represented graphically and of being able to distinguish the goods or services of one person from those of others in the course of trade.[1] Therefore, it is seen that a brand tagline is capable of being reduced to two-dimensional representation on paper. It is submitted that the distinctiveness criterion has a close nexus with Section 9(1) of the Trademarks Act under absolute grounds for refusal of registration.

In order for a brand tagline to qualify as a trademark, it must be distinctive,by acquiring secondary meaning and goodwill,and must not be descriptive of thefeatures of the products and services in respect of which it is used. The brand tagline by itself also must not indicate anything which has become customary in the established trade practices of that particular business.

Distinctiveness of the Generic

The Karnataka High Court in Reebok India Company v. Gomzi Active[2] has held that the person claiming the benefit of distinctive usage has to establish that over a period of time the concerned trade slogan has developed a secondary meaning and goodwill.[3] The Court accepted Reebok’s (Defendant) contention that the phrase “I AM WHAT I AM” is generic in nature and has not any acquired distinctive character in relation to the goods produced by Gomzi Active.[4]It was further held that both parties were operating under different and distinct trade names and by the mere use of the common phrase and expression “I AM WHAT I AM” it cannot be said that a customer with reasonable prudence would be misled to purchase the products manufactured by Reebok mistaking them for the products manufactured by Gomzi Active.[5] It is submitted that extensive advertisement through various modes and subsequent inherent association by consumers of the brand tagline with brand’s products and services would satisfy the test of distinctiveness even if concerned tagline is a common and generic phrase.

Descriptiveness and Commercial Features

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in a petition for special leave to appeal[6] upheld a Division Bench decision of the Delhi High Court in Procter & Gamble Manufacturing (Tianjin) Co. Ltd. &Ors. v. Anchor Health & Beauty Care Pvt. Ltd.[7], wherein the issue of distinctiveness and descriptiveness of brand taglines was discussed and elaborated.[8]The Court held that

  • The expression “ALLROUND PROTECTION” in Anchor’s advertisements and on its product is covered within the meaning of Section 2(m) & (zb) of the Act.
  • There is a difference between specific descriptiveness and generic descriptiveness.Forexample,a particular tagline may be descriptive of such features that are unique to the brand’s products but not generic features of the said products. (It is pertinent to note that Anchor was the first in the industry to use “ALLROUND PROTECTION”)

It is submitted that the Court in a way has interpreted a brand’s tagline or its“communicated commercial essence”tobe considered as a unique feature of its products and services, while deciding that is not a descriptive tagline.

Expressions of Customary Trade Practice

In Stokely Van Camp Inc v. Heinz India Pvt Ltd.[9], the Delhi High Court Division bench held that the trade slogan “Rehydrate Replenish Refuel” used in respect of Gatorade, even though a registered slogan mark, cannot be granted protection since in the energy drink market it has become customary and in fact necessary to describe products as such. Therefore, the Court held the defendant’s use of the expression “Rehydrates fluids, Replenishes vital salts, Recharges glucose” will fall within the ambit of Section 30 (2)(a) of the Trademarks Act, wherein a registered trademark is not infringed when the alleged infringing mark/expression is used to indicate features and characteristics of the products in respect of which it is used.

Therefore, it is seen that brand taglines have been recognised as trademarks in India provided they have acquired distinctiveness through goodwill and secondary meaning. It is also seen that trade slogans can be used to describe particular unique commercial features of the brand’s products and services.

Scope of Brand Taglines as Copyrights

Copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, cinematographic films and sound recordings.[10]The Delhi High Court in Pepsi Co. Inc. and Anrv. Hindustan Coca Cola and Ors.,held that advertising slogans are not to be accorded protection under the Copyright Act and they may be protected under the law of passing off.[11] The Court also opined that although the task of devising advertising slogans often requires a high level of skill and judgment but they will usually not qualify as original literary works.Law of passing off is not limited to names but is wide enough to encompass other descriptive materials including slogans, as part of goodwill built by extensive advertisement.[12]

Further, in Godfrey Phillips India Ltd. v DharampalSatyapal Ltd. & Another[13], the Delhi High Court followed the ratio of Pepsi Co and held that the advertising slogan “ShauqBadiCheezHain” is a mere combination of common words and hence cannot be granted protection as a literary or artistic work under the Copyright Act since they are as such not an outcome of great skill, and at best can be given protection under the law of passing off provided the requisite case is made out for passing off.

It is submitted that the reason as to why advertising slogans or brand taglines are usually not granted copyright protection is due to the generic use of words in such taglines. Brand taglines are often arrived at after much deliberation and exercise of intellectual activity and hence it may be argued to come under the ambit of originality and creativity in order to be treated as literary or artistic works.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is submitted that a particular brand tagline may be accorded protection as a trademark if it satisfies the distinctiveness and non-descriptiveness criteria. In case of Tagline comprising of common words or generic phrase, it is through extensive use, advertising and campaigning that a tagline or slogan acquires secondary meaning to the extent consumers and the general public start associating it exclusively with the concerned brand or business. Therefore, proper documentation and detailed records regarding the use and advertising of brand taglines are essential for the purpose of preventing the dilution of goodwill created with the public.

It is also to be noted that brand taglines are usually not granted copyright protection due to the use of generic common-place words and the Courts are reluctant in considering them to be original literary or artistic works.

About the Author: Pratik Das, Legal Intern at Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys and can be reached at abhijeet@khuranaandkhurana.com.

References:

[1] Section 2(zb), Trademarks Act, 1999

[2] 2007 (34) PTC 164 (Karn)

[3]Ibid at paragraph 11

[4]Ibid at paragraph 12

[5]Ibid at paragraph 16

[6]C. Nos. 15928-15929/2014

[7]2014 (59) PTC 421 (Del)

[8]Ibid at paragraph 10

[9]MIPR 2010 (3) 273 at paragraph 9

[10] Section 13(1)(a), Copyright Act, 1957

[11] 94(2001)DLT 30 at paragraph 70

[12]Ibid at paragraph 68

[13] 2012 (51) PTC 251 (Del) at paragraph 14

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