Yet another Reckitt Benckiser Controversy: Dettol V. Devtol

There’s always this one name that pops up in every controversy. Deets may vary but the contestable element remains uptight and present. While talking about trademark controversies, Reckitt Benckiser is one brand making an appearance before the court multiple times a year. Well, why not? After all, the centuries old company excel in almost every standard of commodities through its distinguishable brands, be it health and personal product brands like Dettol, Veet, Clearsil and Strepsils or lip-smacking food product brands like French’s Potato Stick, Frenche’s Fried Onion and Mustard or even home-care and fabric care product brands like Vanish, Airwick, Mortein and Harpic, amongst the others. Established name means more risks and hence, more frequent controversies leading to judicial affairs.

This time again the Indian subsidiary, Reckitt Benckiser (India) Ltd, founded in 1951 dragged a rival competitor before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court. The brand image of its leading product ‘Dettol’ was being tarnished by one defendant, Mohit Petrochemicals Pvt. Ltd, engaged in manufacturing and sales of ‘Devtol’ hand sanitizer. This could result in huge losses to the plaintiff, especially when there is an ever-increasing demand of hand sanitizers in the on-going COVID-19 crisis.

Amidst the legal proceedings, the plaintiffs through their counsels Mr. Chander Lall and Ms. Nancy Roy sought numerous remedies including permanent injunction order, restraining the defendants from making use of ‘Devtol’ or any other identical or similar trademark to the well-known ‘Dettol’ trademark, on any products whatsoever. Such an action amounts to trademark infringement, trademark dilution and passing off. In his defense, the defendant claimed that manufacturing of hand sanitizers is a present-day need as the same gave protection from COVID-19. Further adding that, numerous steps have already been taken to withdraw the infringing mark ‘Devtol’ including a stop on manufacturing and sale under the conflicting name together with a heads-up to dealers and agents to withdraw goods bearing ‘Devtol’ label.

Very recently, Justice Rajiv Shakdhar of Delhi High Court, after hearing arguments from both the parties through videoconferencing observed passed a decree of permanent injunction against the defendant, thereby safeguarding the ‘well-known’ status of ‘Dettol’ mark. In furtherance, the defendant was directed to pay damages amounting to one lakh rupees in favour of Juvenile Justice Fund, maintained by the Delhi High Court. An order of recalling the existing stocks in the market was also passed.