Madras High Court Held That The Indian Food Industry Cannot Claim Monopoly Over Common Terms ‘Magic’
A seven-year-old dispute between ITC Limited and Nestle finally concluded and settled by the Madras High Court. On 10th June 2020, Justice C. Saravanan of the Madras High Court dismissed a suit filed by ITC Limited claiming a restraint on Nestle India Ltd. from usage of phrases like ‘Magic Masala’ and/or ‘Magical Masala’ with respect to their noodle product ‘Maggi Xtra – delicious Magical Masala’ launched in 2013.
ITC had launched a product ‘Sunfeast Yippee! Noodles’ in 2010, which was available in two flavours namely – ‘Classic Masala’ and ‘Magic Masala’. The product was a big hit and fetched about 12.5% of the market share in the instant noodle division within a period of just three years. ITC alleged that Nestle, by adopting a similar expression ‘Magical Masala’ for it’s newly launched product ‘Maggi Xtra – delicious’ in 2013 had committed an act of passing off, as ITC has a monopolistic right over the term ‘Magic Masala’.
While replying to the arguments submitted by Plaintiff, the Madras High Court stated that the terms ‘magic’ and ‘masala’ are quite common to the trade and generic in Indian Culinary and Food Industry. Therefore, no one can claim a monopoly over the same. Justice C.
Saravanan observed that the words ‘Magic Masala’ are presented in a laudatory sense and the word ‘Masala’ is a common term used to signify mixture of different spices in the Indian household and therefore these terms are incapable of being appropriated. As a result their adoption and use by Nestle cannot be termed as ‘mala fide’.
Moreover, the Hon’ble Court established that the expression ‘Magic Masala’ could have become a distinctive mark and might have been entitled for protection and monopoly by ITC, but Nestle had already intervened by then and ITC failed to establish the expression as a distinctive term. The Bench also observed that the said expression has already been adopted and used by other brands for their products like Lay’s Magic Masala, Balaji Magic Masala, Samrudhi Kitchen Magic Masala, Bindaas Masala Magic, Nissin Cup Noddles Mast Masala, Walmart’s Instant Noodles Mast Masala etc. before ITC launched its product in 2010.
With regard to trademark, the Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that ITC never intended to use the phrase ‘Magic Masala’ as a trademark or a sub-brand, since no trademark application has been filed by them for the phrase individually. The company has merely intended to call ‘Magic Masala’ a flavour or a variant to help consumers distinguish between different flavours of it’s brand ‘Sunfeast Yippee!’. On comparing the packaging of both the products, the Hon’ble Court found no visual similarity or scope of confusion and was of the view that though adaptation of the expression by Nestle has been inspired by ITC’s noodle brand, it would not amount to passing off in view of the reasons recorded by the Court.