New Delhi: Amul’s latest offering of ‘Sugar Free’ ice-creams has been pushed off the shelves by Ahmedabad-based drug and health food maker Zydus Cadila Ltd, which claimed that it was “deceptively similar” to its ‘Sugar Free’ range of sweeteners.
In what threatens to snowball into a pitted trademark battle, Zydus Cadila has got an order from the Delhi high court to stall fresh countrywide sales of the Amul ice cream that retailers say has been fast disappearing from refrigerator compartments.
On 3 April, the court restrained Amul “from selling, marketing and using any food preparation/products” that go by the ‘Sugar Free’ name, until the next hearing on 23 May. In his order, Justice G.S. Sistani said “in case the injunction is not granted, the plaintiff (Zydus) at this stage will suffer irreparable loss.” Zydus has already applied for trademark protection and is awaiting its grant from the The Trade Marks Registry.
Amul’s chief general manager R.S. Sodhi, who says the sugar-free ice creams “have received an extremely positive response,” was unaware of the court order but said that the company “will fight it out”.
“A sugar-free product will have to say sugar-free. There is no other way of saying it. It is an adjective, a generic name,” he said.
Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF), which owns the iconic Amul brand, can either file an appeal against the order or seek a licence from the trademark owner or simply change the name to a non-infringing one, recommends Som Mandal, an advocate with law firm Fox and Mandal.
‘Amul Sugar Free’, aimed at the burgeoning diabetic population in India, was launched by Anand, the Gujarat-based cooperative in January this year. The company, which is the apex marketing body for constituent milk marketing federations, was hoping to build the new range of healthy ice creams into a Rs100 crore brand in two-three years. GCMMF had annual sales of Rs3,773.6 crore in 2005-06.
Zydus, on the other hand, has been selling sugar-substitute sweeteners under the brand name ‘Sugar Free’ since 1988 and has a 74% market share. “By using the same name, (Amul) was trying to pass off their goods as those of the plaintiff,” says Zydus petition. In its petition, the Rs1,300 crore drug maker stated that Sugar Free is growing at 28% per annum.
In its petition, the company had stated that its brand “enjoys high reputation and enormous goodwill” among consumers, and by using the same trademark name prominently in its packaging, the Gujarat cooperative was trying to ride piggyback on its brand equity.
Zydus Cadila, represented by its lawyers Arun Jaitley and Pratibha Singh, has also demanded damages to the tune of Rs25 lakh in its lawsuit. The court is yet to rule on this.
India is fast on its way to becoming the ‘diabetes capital’ of the world with roughly 41 million patients. Companies have, therefore, begun eyeing the potential in the food and nutritional food segment for this population.