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KSRTC vs KSRTC legal battle: Karnataka rejects Kerala’s claim over brand name, says Trade Marks Registry order has no legal basis

Kerala and Karnataka are fighting a legal battle to claim the exclusive rights to use the 'KSRTC' trademark for their respective road transportation corporations, which has been in use by both state transport corporations for decades.

Two days after Kerala claimed that it had secured the rights to the KSRTC trademark for its road transport corporation against Karnataka, the Karnataka government has rejected Kerala’s claims over ‘KSRTC’ trademark, saying such orders have no legal validity.

Kerala and Karnataka are fighting a legal battle to claim the exclusive rights to use the ‘KSRTC’ trademark for their respective road transportation corporations, which has been in use for both Karnataka and Kerala state transport services for decades. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation started using the abbreviation ‘KSRTC’ when they started the services in 1965, while Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation commenced services in 1974 and started using the abbreviation since then.

However, on Wednesday, Kerala announced that the Central Trade Marks Registry issued a final verdict under the Trade Marks Act of 1999, allotting the abbreviation ‘KSRTC’ to Kerala in a legal dispute between the two state-run undertakings that began in 2014.

Since the order, Kerala has claimed that the acronym ‘KSRTC’, abbreviated for Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, its emblem and the nickname Aanavandi (elephant cart) now belong to them, and no other RTCs can use it under trademark rules. Meanwhile, the legal issue has become an emotive issue in Karnataka, and people in the state are demanding the state government not to cede the iconic brand name to Kerala.

What is the dispute?

The legal battle between Karnataka and Kerala over intellectual property rights on ‘KSRTC’ was going on for seven years. The battle began in 2013 when Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) took the first step to register the trademark with the Controller General of Patent and Trademarks and asked Kerala not to use the acronym further.

Controller General of Patents Design and Trademarks is a body attached to the Union government’s Ministry of Commerce under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion that grants patents, trademarks to registered entities and decides on other Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) related issues.

After the grant of approval by CGPDT, Karnataka had issued a notice to Kerala asking the state to stop using the abbreviation.

Following this, Anthony Chacko, then Chairman and Managing Director of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, too applied for the trademark at the Registrar of Trademarks under the Central Government for Kerala. Kerala also challenged the award in 2015 at the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).

On Wednesday, Kerala claimed that they have been awarded the trademark certificate for KSRTC by the same IPAB.

As Kerala claims that the Controller General of Patents Design and Trade Marks allegedly has approved their claim on ‘KSRTC’, they have now said the Kerala RTC will display ‘KSRTC’ with the registration mark ‘®’ wherever the state uses it. Meanwhile, Kerala RTC’s CMD has said that they will be sending legal notices to people who use the abbreviation and can claim money from people using it.

Karnataka rejects the claims, says they will continue to use ‘KSRTC’ brand

Terming the claims made by Kerala as false, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) Managing Director Shivayogi Kalasad on Friday (4 June) said that such claims are factually incorrect and they have received no such notice Controller General of Patents Design and Trademarks asking them to stop using ‘KSRTC’ trademark.

The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) Managing Director Shivayogi Kalasad said they have not received any final order on the issue and media reports on the verdict are factually incorrect.

Contesting the claims made by Kerala, Kalasad added that the central government had abolished the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) by an ordinance on April 4, 2021, and any award issued by it is legally invalid as all such pending applications will be transferred to the High Courts for adjudication.

“We are consulting our lawyers to take legal steps to protect our rights. If Kerala issues notice to us, we will respond suitably. We reserve our right to defend our claim legally,” added Kalasad.

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister and Transport Minister Laxman Savadi has also said they have not yet received any order copy regarding this issue. “Without any notice from the Controller General of Patents Design and Trade Marks we can’t go ahead with Kerala’s claim. We will discuss with our KSRTC legal team and explore all possibilities,” he said. Savadi also said it was an unnecessary controversy, and “the service of the people is important for the two corporations”.

Currently, both states continue to use the ‘KSRTC’ brand name. While Karnataka corporation uses the Gandaberunda icon (two-headed mythical bird) as its logo, Kerala RTC uses the image of two elephants in its logo.

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