On November 1, 2016, the nation was shocked when the face of ‘The Newshour’, Mr. Arnab Goswami stepped down as the Editor-in chief of its parent news channel Times Now. Few days later, Mr. Goswami announced that he will launch his new venture, a News Channel called ‘Republic’. Republic made its social media debut with the launch of a Twitter handle and Facebook page and is also in the process of launching its website republicworld.com.
After initial optimism on social media, his new venture quickly plunged into controversy when Subramanium Swami, a senior BJP Leader, and a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) addressed a letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting alleging that the name of Mr. Goswami’s proposed news channel ‘Republic’ violates the provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act”). In his opinion, use of the word ‘Republic’ for commercial purposes is expressly prohibited by the said Act, and Mr. Swami very aptly iterated this fact in his letter to the Ministry.
The issue at present here is whether the use of the word ‘Republic’ is in contravention to the Act. Reading the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act will throw some light on the primary reasons for the promulgation of the said Act. It states that-
“The General Assembly of the United Nations Organization recommended in 1946 that members of the United Nations should take necessary legislative or other appropriate measures to prevent the use, without proper authority, and in particular for commercial purposes, of the emblem, the official seal and the name of the United Nations and of the abbreviations of that name. A similar recommendation has since been received also from the World Health Organization for prevention of the use of its name (and abbreviations), emblem and official seal. Instances have also come to light of the use in India (and abroad) of the Indian National Flag and emblem and of the names or pictorial representation of Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders, for commercial and trade purposes and in a manner likely to offend the sentiments of the people. The provisions of the Indian Trade Marks Act, 1940, Indian Patents and Designs Act, 1911, Indian Merchandise Marks Act, 1889, and the Indian Companies Act, 1913, are not adequate to prevent these abuses. The Bill seeks to prevent the improper use of these names, emblems, etc., for the purpose of trade, business, calling, profession, patent or design and to impose a penalty for misuse of emblems, etc., specified in the Schedule and empowers the Central Government to make additions, and amendments in the Schedule as and when necessary”
According to news reports, Swamy contended in his letter to the Ministry that item 6 in the schedule to the Act prohibits the use of the word ‘Republic’. Item 6 to the schedule to the Act reads as follows: “6. The name, emblem or official seal of the President, Governor, Sadar-i-Riyasat or Republic or Union of India.” Section 9(2)(d) of the Trademarks Act,1999 also imposes an absolute restriction on the registration of marks which is in contravention with the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act,1950.
The Indian Government and the Judiciary have not taken strong note of instances of violations of the provisions of the Act. There are of course sporadic instances of cases where the judiciary ordered the authorities to take steps. For instance, in the case of Ravikanth Shinde v Managing Director, Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Ltd. and Ors. The Respondents in this case were manufacturing ‘kitchen salt’ under the trademark Dandi with the pictorial representation in the background which creates an impression of Mahatama Gandhi. The Andhra Pradesh High Court directed the authorities concerned under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950, to take steps in accordance with the Act to ensure that Mahatma Gandhi’s picture or the name Dandi is not used for any commercial purpose.
Mr. Goswami’s trademark application, a copy of which can be found over here, was subsequently filed on November 20, 2016, in Class 35, which relates to advertisement and publicity services. It is pertinent to note, that the Trademark Registry did not raise any objection on the basis of Section 9 (2) (d). However, it did raise an objection based on Section 9 (1) (a) in the following words: “As the mark is a common surname/personal name/geographical name/ornamental or a non-distinctive geometrical figure and as such it is not capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of others.”
However, this controversy was put to rest subsequently, as Mr. Goswami has since rebranded his channel to ‘Republic TV’.
For general information of our readers, we have listed a few marks both in India and Abroad below a substantial part of which contains the word ‘Republic’ –
Table – 1: List of marks in India containing the word ‘Republic’
Table – 2: List of marks in the United States bearing the word ‘Republic’