New Delhi: The old foes are at it again.
After having fought pitched battles over telecast rights, cricket players and cricket leagues, the Subhash Chandra-promoted Essel Group and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are yet again locked in a fight—this time over trademarks and logos.
Over the past 15 months, the Essel Group, popularly referred to as Zee Group after the television channels it runs, has filed at least four dozen applications with the country’s trademark office seeking registration of various combinations of Twenty20. These include Twenty-20 Cricket, T Twenty, Twenty-Twenty Cricket, T 20, and 20-20 cricket.
BCCI has now challenged them all, according to the website of India’s Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks.
The applications were filed by one of Essel Group’s companies, Essel Sports Pvt. Ltd which wanted to use the trademarks for businesses such as electronic equipment, advertising and business management, entertainment and sports.
Twenty20, or T20, is a cricket format that involves two teams. Each team plays a single inning of 20 overs. The format was first launched in the UK in 2003. It became popular in India after the country’s team drubbed arch rival Pakistan in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup played in South Africa in 2007.
In a separate case, BCCI has also challenged the logo of the Indian Cricket League, or ICL, the 20-over domestic cricket league launched by the Zee Group in April 2007, according to information available on the trademark authority’s website. Zee Sports Ltd, the sports channel in Zee’s bouquet, had applied for the registration of ICL and its logo in April 2007.
The logo comprises a giant cricket ball in the backdrop with a cricketer swinging his bat and Indian Cricket League written at the bottom.
BCCI filed an objection to it, after the application was made public by the trademark office in August.
BCCI launched its own power-packed, billion-dollar cricket league called Indian Premier League, or IPL, in September 2007. IPL was seen as an attempt to thwart Zee’s efforts to challenge BCCI’s monopoly over cricket in the country. To date, ICL remains a sort of an outlaw league, not recognized by either BCCI or the International Cricket Council, and with its players facing censure, even bans from their respective cricket boards.
To cash in on the popularity of the 20-over format, BCCI, in partnership with the cricket boards of Australia, Pakistan, England and South Africa, also announced the launch of Twenty20 Champions League in 2008. This could not be held because of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November.
India’s cricket board has raised more than $2 billion (Rs10,100 crore) only by selling the telecast rights of the two 20-over cricket series.
Mint first reported in October that the Zee Group had sought to trademark T20. Lalit Modi, vice-president of BCCI and chairman and commissioner of the board’s Twenty20 cricket league, IPL, had then casually dismissed Zee’s application by saying: “Anybody can apply for one (trademark). We have several of our own so there will be no reason to contest Zee’s move.”
Modi and IPL’s chief executive, Sundar Raman, were not available for comment on the current development.
ICL’s business head Himanshu Mody, however, clarified that there was not much similarity between the logos of IPL and ICL. There is “nothing similar between IPL and ICL, the logos are different and even the colours are different...in fact, if there is any close resemblance, it is between the EPL (English Premier League) and IPL.”
“As per the trademark rules, any application can be contested, which is what BCCI has done,” he added.
Trademark experts said the Zee group may not be able to secure an exclusivity over the various T20 trademarks. “They (Zee) haven’t created the word...they were not the first to opt the word…,” said New Delhi-based trademark attorney Neil Mason.
“...also Twenty20 essentially means a game of 20 overs cricket between two teams...to expect one company to claim a monopoly over Twenty20, ...would be naïve and impossible.”
Interestingly, Zee started filing its trademark applications weeks after India won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup and cricket’s shortest format became immensely popular in India.
Trademark experts say it generally takes between months and at least a year for India’s Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks to process applications and to open them up for public scrutiny. The trademark office made Zee’s applications public in October and BCCI has challenged them.
“Even though BCCI cannot claim monopoly over Twenty20, it probably doesn’t want to get to a situation where someone else gets a registration,” Mason said.