New Delhi: US-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has run into trouble with the trademark office over the branding of its wholesale stores in India.
The world’s largest retailer, which operates in the country through Bharti-Walmart Pvt. Ltd, a 50:50 joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Ltd, chose to avoid its global brands such as Walmart and Sam’s Club, opting for Best Price Modern Wholesale instead.
But in June, the registrar of trademarks wrote to Bharti-Walmart’s law firm, Anand and Anand, saying it had found “similar” trademarks in its records. It asked the firm to respond in a month.
A Bharti-Walmart spokesperson said this was a routine query. “There is no objection to the Best Price Modern Wholesale logo. As a process, the trademark registry flags certain points of observation for clarification, to which we have sent our response,” said the spokesperson in an email, but declined to give details of its response.
Neil Mason, a trademark lawyer, also said the trademark office’s remarks are part of a process followed in many other cases.
In its letter, the registrar’s office had cited an application from Aditya Birla Retail Ltd to trademark Best Price for retailing and allied businesses. Aditya Birla Retail declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Bharti-Walmart rolled out its first cash-and-carry store in Amritsar in May 2009, and added another outlet near Chandigarh this year. The company plans to open 15 wholesale stores in the next three years.
Five months before launching the first store, Bharti-Walmart made half a dozen applications to trademark Best Price Cash and Carry and Best Price Modern Wholesale, among other names, along with the logo. While opening the Amritsar store, Bharti-Walmart officials said the brand was chosen after a consumer study. But analysts say Wal-Mart was deliberately playing down its global brands to weaken the backlash against the entry of foreign retailers in India.
“That’s is one of the key reasons that they don’t want to use the Walmart name, presumably to keep a low profile and not to attract any adverse interest,” said a retail analyst, asking not to be named as he does business with Bharti Walmart. “It’s an over-cautious way to go, but there is no harm in it.”
Small shopkeepers, who have traditionally dominated India’s retail sector, have been protesting for years against the entry of big business groups—such as Wal-Mart—in the sector. They have staged marches and ransacked stores owned by large corporations in several cities.