This Judgment was in tune with the Colgate V Hindustan Lever, 1999 case which said all puffs are not objectionable. It said “commendatory expressions” are not dealt with as serious representation of fact. Also Delhi High in recent Judgment held mere puffing by exaggerated subjective opinion is not an actionable wrong. The same principles applies to generic disparagement cases. Although this particular case does not recognize the concept of ‘generic disparagement’. But generic disparagement would be exception to the above principle laid down by the Court.
Para.55 of the 2008 Anchor Judgment, Madras High Court. However, The MRTP Act, 1969 is sought to be repealed by Section 66 of The Competition Act, 2002 ( Section 66 does not appear to have been notified so far). But fortunately, the power to enquire into complaints of unfair trade practices is also vested with the Consumer Forum, in view of the fact that the provisions of Section 36A of MRTP Act, 1969 (extracted above) stands imported verbatim into the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 by the Amendment Act 50 of 1993. The definition of "unfair trade practice" found in Section 36A(1) of the MRTP Act, 1969, is adopted in pari materia in Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. But once Section 66 of The Competition Act,2002 is notified and the MRTP Commission is dissolved, a manufacturer or a stockist or a dealer, cannot invoke the provisions of the MRTP Act. But he may be able to approach the Competition Commission. However, he cannot invoke the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, since that Act is intended only for the benefit of consumers and not for the benefit of manufacturers, marketers or service providers. But he may have a common law remedy to approach the civil court subject however to other constraints. By virtue of Rule 7(4) of the Cable Television Network Rules,1994, a consumer's right to seek redressal against an advertisement which falls under the category of "unfair trade practice" stands fortified.
The Court was called upon to decide whether certain claims by Anchor (that its toothpaste was the “only” and “first” toothpaste to offer all-round dental protection) amounted to disparagement. Colgate, obviously, did not take this claim too kindly; and asked for an injunction. On these facts, it may well be possible to hold that the advertisement was not a puff, but was in fact a misleading objective claim. The decision would not be as significant had it rested solely on this aspect. Nonetheless, the Court went further to observe that all puffing was illegal.
Tort Of Product Disparagement Final
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University,
Friday, January 30, 2015 1
To what extent should the comparative advertising be authorized or limited
Whether the present Competition Act, 2002 (unlike the repealed MRTP Act,
1969., Section 36A(1)(x)) provides protection to the traders against unfair
trade practice of disparaging advertisements which tends to creates unfair
competition in the market?
Whether Section 29(8) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 can be amended to
include within its ambit the remedy for product disparagement in cases
where the mark of the competitor is not depicted (i.e., product
disparagement leading to implied infringement of the mark) ?
What is the legislative intent of Section 2(1)(r)(x) r/w Section 14(1)(hc) of the
Consumer Protection Act, 1986? The said provisions provided for remedy for
product disparagement to the complainant within the meaning of the said
Act. The said remedy very often invoked.
Friday, January 30, 2015 2
According to Black’s Law Dictionary the word ‘disparage’ means
to connect unequally; or
to dishonor(something or someone) by comparison; or
to unjustly discredit or detract from the reputation of
(another’s property, product or business); or
a false and injurious statement that discredits or detracts
from the reputation of another’s property, product or
That implies, ‘disparagement’ is false and injurious statement
that discredits or detracts from reputation of another’s
property, product or business.
Friday, January 30, 2015 3
Every extravagant phrase used in commendation of his own goods
may be an implied disparagement of the goods of all others in the
it may attract customers to him and diminish the business of others
who sell as good and even better articles at the same price;
but that is a disparagement of which the law takes no cognizance.
In order to constitute disparagement which is, in the sense of law,
injurious, it must be shown that the:
(a) defendant's representations were made of and concerning the
(b) that they were in disparagement of his goods and untrue;
(c) and that they have occasioned special damage to the plaintiff.
Unless each and all of these three things are established, it must be
held that the defendant has acted within his rights and that the
plaintiff has not suffered any ‘legal injuria’.
Friday, January 30, 2015 4
Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which deals with reasonable restrictions
provide for restrictions on the freedom of commercial speech under Article 19(1)(a) of
the Constitution of India.
Section 36A (1)(x) of the repealed Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969
had stated about “disparagement of another trader’s product” as an unfair trade practice.
Section 29(8) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 deals with disparagement by infringement of
the competitor’s mark. Defines what advertising would amount to infringement of a
Remedy under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, very often invoked by the
Exploring whether Section 4(2)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 would cover within its
ambit the remedy for product disparagement as the same leads to unfair market
Friday, January 30, 2015 5
In Tata Press Ltd. v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., AIR 1995 SC 2438: held that
advertising is “commercial speech”- Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
This freedom extends itself to public speaking, radio, television and press: limited by
Article 19(2) which imposes certain reasonable restrictions
in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,
the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states,
public order, decency or morality, or
in relation to contempt of court,
defamation or incitement to an offence.
These restrictions could be traced to the definition of the term "unfair trade practice" in
Section 36A of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 (now repealed)
and Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Therefore, any advertisement which defames another’s product intentionally with a view
to decrease the market share of the competitors would fall under the reasonable
restriction clause under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
Friday, January 30, 2015 6
The provision which pertains to comparative representation
contained in Section 36A (1)(x) of the MRTP Act, 1969:
“Section 36A……’unfair trade practice’ means a trade
practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use
or supply of any goods or for the provisions of any services,
adopts any unfair or deceptive practice including any of the
following practices, namely, the practice of making any
statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible
(x) gives false or misleading facts disparaging the goods,
services or trade of another person.”
Friday, January 30, 2015 7
1. Whether the compared product in the disputed advertisement is identifiable?
In many cases the MRTP Commission took the view that as long as the product
was not recognizable to the consumers, the advertisement could not be
misleading or cause disparagement.
2. What is the effect on the common, reasonable man and what leads him to a
wrong conclusion? In one case Supreme Court ruled that showing affiliation to a
trade mark in an advertisement rather than its owner company, with which the
advertiser has collaboration, does not lead to misrepresentation amounting to
misleading of the consumers.
3. Whether the disputed advertisement contained a false statement and was
misleading to the consumer, leading to disparagement?
4. Whether the knowledge of the consumers is sufficient to make an
association with the compared product by implication?
The above shows that the MRTP Act was fractured and provided limited protection
and guidelines to companies. The trade mark issues were left out and fair
competition was not the focus.
Friday, January 30, 2015 8
Section 29(8) discussing what form of advertising would amount to infringement
A registered trade mark is infringed by any advertising of that trade mark if such
takes unfair advantage and is contrary to honest practices in industrial or
commercial matters; or
is detrimental to its distinctive character; or
is against the reputation of the trademark.
In effect, the provisions read together allow comparative advertising as long as the
use of the Registered Trademark does not amount to infringement. Therefore, as
long as an advertiser uses a registered trademark, however proving that he does not
fall under the ambit of any of the clauses of Section 29(8), he may continue to
practice comparative advertising. (As per Section 30(1). But the judicial precedents
governing law as to product disparagement overrides the statutory protection in
cases where the disparagement occurs by non-use of mark .
Friday, January 30, 2015 9
Section 29(8) and more particularly Section 29(8)(c) could cover within it the
remedy for product disparagement. The claim of product disparagement or
defamation means any form of advertising which affects the reputation of the trade
mark. The word “any advertising of that trade mark” should includes within its
meaning all forms of advertising.
Product disparagement occurs even where no mark is published or advertised. Such
are cases of ‘implied infringement of the mark’ where the advertisement disparages
the reputation of the ‘mark’ without depicting the mark visually. The trader own the
mark and it is the mark through which the consumer views the product. Therefore,
defamation in actual sense is the defamation of the mark. The existing view
restricts the scope of Section 29(8). Defamation to be viewed from the point of
view of the consumer not the trader.
Though the Section does not explicitly use the words “disparaging advertising”, it
clarifies any advertising that takes unfair advantage or is detrimental to the
distinctive character or against the reputation of a mark as a “disparaging
advertisement amounting to infringement of the mark.
Friday, January 30, 2015 10
Section 2(1)(r)(x) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 defines ‘unfair trade
practices’ as a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use
or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts any unfair
method or unfair or deceptive practice and includes within its meaning any
practices which gives false or misleading facts disparaging the goods, services
or trade of another person.
The law relating to unfair trade practice existing from 1969 under the MRTP
Act and later imported into Consumer Protection Act, 1986 does not appear to
have been taken advantage of by very many persons to prune misleading
advertisements, despite the introduction of Cable Television Networks
(Regulation) Act, 1995 and the Rules issued there under.
The Judicial precedents shows that the consumer had very rarely invoked the
provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 claiming that the said
disparagement has misled them in making selection of the quality of product
they seek to buy and the practice is ‘unfair’ within the meaning of Section
2(1)(r) which defines ‘unfair trade practices’
Friday, January 30, 2015 11
Under the Competition Act, 2002, the law relating to disparaging advertisement
falls under Section 4(2)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 which deals with abuse of
dominant position. It states that abuse of dominant position consists of directly or
indirectly imposing unfair or discriminatory (1) condition in purchase or sale of
goods or service; or (2) price in purchase or sale (including predatory price) of
goods or service. Explanatory clause appended to the said sub-provision states that
the unfair or discriminatory condition in purchase or sale of goods or service
referred to above shall not include such discriminatory condition or price which
may be adopted to meet the competition.
Advertising plays an important role in marketing of products’ which ultimately
influences the consumers’ decision to buy or not to buy a particular product.
Therefore, a disparaging advertising may impose unfair or discriminatory condition
in the market influencing the consumers’ choice of buying a particular product. The
Competition Act, 2002 which has replaced the MRTP Act, 1969 has taken into
consideration the interest of the two competing marketing units. However, the said
remedy has still not been availed and has not received judicial recognition.
Friday, January 30, 2015 13
Reckitt & Colman of India Ltd v MP Ramachandran. (1999)19 PTC 741
This decision followed an unreported decision of the same Court dated September 30 1994 in
the case of Chloride Industries Ltd v Standard Batteries Ltd. The case set a trend in this
branch of law and the five principles laid out in it became the benchmark for deciding such
cases. The five principles were:
1. A tradesman is entitled to declare his goods to be the best in the world, even though the
declaration is untrue.
2. He can also say that his goods are better than his competitors even though this statement is
3. For the purpose of saying that his goods are the best in the world or his goods are better
than his competitors he can compare the advantages of its goods over the goods of others.
4. He, however, cannot while saying his goods are better than his competitors, say that his
competitors' goods are bad. If he says so he slanders the goods of the competitors. In
other words he defames his competitors and their goods, which is not permissible.
5. If there is no defamation to the goods or the manufacturer of such goods no action lies,
but if there is such defamation an action lies and the Court is competent to grant both
damages and an injunction restraining the repetition of such defamation.
Friday, January 30, 2015 14
The Court explained that although a seller has the latitude to represent his
product in such a manner that he attracts more customers than he normally
would have, such latitude would translate into description and “reasonable
assertion” of the product, but not to misrepresentation. In other words,
factual representations are perfectly legitimate.
The Apex Court went a step further to state that “commendatory
expressions” (puffing) are not dealt with as serious representations of fact.
When the SC says that “commendatory expressions” are not dealt with as
serious representations of fact, it does not mean that such representations
are untrue or misleading. On the contrary, what it means is that such
representations cannot be taken seriously and that there is no obligation on
the part of the seller to the customer with regard to the true quality, rather
standing of goods merely because the seller has resorted to puffing.
However, the Supreme Court also cautioned that these principles are by no
means conclusive since, by and large, cases of puffing are borderline cases,
and that there exists a very thin line which separates puffing from
Friday, January 30, 2015 15
In Colgate Palmolive (India) Ltd v. Hindustan Lever Ltd, AIR 1999 SC 3105, the
Supreme Court crystallized specific considerations for a Court in the matter of grant of interlocutory injunction as follows:-
extent of damages being an adequate remedy;
protect the plaintiff's interest for violation of his rights though, however, having regard to the injury that may be suffered
by the defendants by reason thereof;
the Court while dealing with the matter ought not to ignore the factum of strength of one party's case being stronger
than the other's;
no fixed rules or notions ought to be had in the matter of grant of injunction but on the facts and circumstances of each case
the relief being kept flexible;
the issue is to be looked at from the point of view as to whether on refusal of the injunction the plaintiff would suffer
irreparable loss and injury keeping in view the strength of the parties' case;
balance of convenience or inconvenience ought to be considered as an important requirement even if there is a serious
question or prima facie case in support of the grant;
whether the grant or refusal of injunction will adversely affect the interest of the general public which can or cannot be
Friday, January 30, 2015 16
Essentials of Product Disparagement:
A false or misleading statement of fact has been made about his product;
That the statement is either deceived, or has the capacity to deceive, substantial segment of
potential consumer. The Court held that although a seller is entitled to glorify his product, in
the process, he is not to denigrate or disparage a rival’s product.
The deception is material, in that it is likely to influence consumer’s purchasing decisions.
As to question of disparagement the Court said three things has to be kept in mind: (a) intent
of the commercial; (b) manner of the commercial; and (c) storyline of the commercial and
the message it seeks to convey.
In Dabur India Ltd. v Wipro Ltd., 2006, the Court held that: (WIPRO Sanjeevani Honey
and Dabur’s Honey.
“It is one thing to say that the defendant's product is better than that of the plaintiff and it is
another thing to say that the plaintiff's product is inferior to that of the defendant."
Friday, January 30, 2015 17
In Dabur India Limited v. Colgate Palmolive India Ltd, AIR 2005 Del 102,
the Delhi High Court held that generic disparagement of a rival product without
specifically identifying or pin pointing the rival product is equally objectionable.
Clever advertising can indeed hit a rival product without specifically referring to it.
No one can disparage a class or genre of a product within which a complaining
plaintiff falls and raise a defence that the plaintiff has not been specifically
The defendant in argument relied on English Judgment by Willes J, wherein the
Court held that, “Assuming the article to be libelous, it is not a libel on the
plaintiff; it only reflects on a class of persons dealing in such objects; and it is
immaterial in this view whether they are genuine or not. If a man wrote that all
lawyers were thieves, no particular lawyer could sue him unless there is something
to point to the particular individual, which there is not there”. The Indian Court
disagreed saying that as the case of libel and not a commercial advertisement. It
further said that, “the practice of undue obeisance to English jurisprudence
without any thought to the merit and reasoning of such judicial wisdom should also
Friday, January 30, 2015 18
In a Judgment, the High Court of Madras held that false claims by traders about the superiority of their products,
either directly or by comparing them against the products of their rivals, were not permissible.
The Court asserted that consumer interest is an element which must be considered when assessing comparative
advertising. This appears to be first time a court has included discussion of consumer interest in its analysis of such
The Madras decision however seems to have done away with this rationale for distinguishing between subjective
and objective claims by holding that all puffing is an actionable wrong
The Madras High Court observed that: “Recognizing the right of producers to puff their own products even with
untrue claims, but without denigrating or slandering each other’s product, would be to ‘de-recognize’ the rights of
the consumers guaranteed under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.”
The Court has taken a strong objection to any untrue statement in an advertisement held that: “To permit two rival
traders to indulge in puffery, without denigrating or slandering each other’s products, would benefit both of them,
but would leave the consumer helpless. This observation was based on the court’s assumption that comparative
advertising, even if it did not amount to a disparagement of other’s goods, could result in consumers being misled.
This balancing of trader interests with consumer interests means that an advertisement which makes false claims,
whether comparative or not, may be subject to an injunction or restraining orders from a court.
However, the High Court of Madras failed to notice a recent order of the Delhi High Court in the case of Reckitt
Benckiser v Hindustan Lever, which held that mere ‘generic puffery’ is not actionable, 2008 (38) PTC 139
Friday, January 30, 2015 19
Under Reckitt Benckiser v. Hindustan Lever, 2008 (38) PTC 139 (Del), claim of commercial
disparagement to succeed, the Court to approach the issue from the perspective of the
hypothetical “average person of imperfect recollection” picked from the target group of
For example; “CCD sells the best coffee” is unlikely to make much of an impact on a group
of coffee lovers; “CCD sells the cheapest coffee” may well cause them to think about
switching over to CCD from Barista. Thus, drawing out from this rationale,
the Delhi decision concluded that a tradesman is entitled to declare that his goods are the best
in the world – even if such a declaration is untrue (as it almost inevitably will – at least, it will
be impossible to prove as true). Mere puffing (by definition, exaggerated subjective opinion)
was not an actionable wrong.
Madras High Court which ignored the Delhi High Court Judgment Court went on to hold
that any puff must amount to an “unfair trade practice” under the Consumer Protection Act. It
was held that allowing competitors to puff their products was not in the public interest, and
could not be permitted. Undoubtedly, this is true only insofar as consumers are likely to
believe the claims to be true. But are claims of obvious subjective exaggeration (for instance,
“best coffee in the world”) really prejudicial to consumer interest?
It appears that this decision presents a clear conflict between the Delhi and Madras High
Courts on the issue of the permissibility of puffing. This conflict can possibly be resolved by
confining the observations made in the Madras decision to objective claims about product
quality rather than clearly subjective puffs.
Friday, January 30, 2015 20
The approach taken on comparative advertising up to
the Madras High Court judgment was consistent is
saying that, while the law allows you to say that your
goods are better, it stops you from saying that your
competitor's goods are inferior.
But the Madras High Court is now of the view that the
moment you say that you are better when in fact you
are not, you are implying that others are inferior and
also misleads the consumer. This means that businesses
should not risk making any untrue or exaggerated
statements in advertisements.
Friday, January 30, 2015 21
Most recently, the latest on-air communication of homecare brand
Rin has openly taken on rival, P&G’s Tide, without the typical
airbrushing or pixellation to hide the rival brand name on TV. The
Rin washing powder commercial, which went on air in Friday, 02nd
March, 2010, claims to be a better quality product in comparison to
The visual clearly shows a variant of Tide, Tide Naturals, shown
against Rin with the audio saying ‘Tide se kahin behatar safedi de
Rin’ (Rin gives better whiteness than Tide). Within a day of its
going on air, the campaign has landed up in Madras High Court.
HUL claimed that their assertion is backed by laboratory data and
certification of superior quality product.
Friday, January 30, 2015 22
The recent battle between P&G and HUL was infact long
drawn, with its roots linked to an earlier suit, filed by HUL
against P&G in Chennai on 25th February 2010, wherein
HUL was successful in obtaining injunction against P&G
for its Tide Natural commercial claiming that the detergent
contains natural ingredients such as lemon and 'chandan'
(sandalwood). P&G was not able to substantiate their claim
of natural ingredients and that it provided "whiteness with
P&G filed an application before the Madras High Court for
injunction restraining HUL from airing the rin
advertisement and has also filed an application for vacating
the previous injunction order against them restraining their
Friday, January 30, 2015 23
Pending the Madras High Court Judgment on the advertisements of the
rival HUL and P&G, the Calcutta High Court however, on 05th March,
2010 restrained FMCG major Hindustan Unilever from telecasting its
controversial comparative Rin v/s Tide TV commercial. Delivering its
Judgment on a petition filed by rival Procter and Gamble (P&G), the maker
of the detergent Tide, Justice Patheriya ruled that the present commercial
amounts to a clear case of disparagement i.e., a manufacturer is not entitled
to say that his competitor's goods are bad so as to puff and promote his
Friday, January 30, 2015 24
On a submission by HUL that there were technical difficulties pertaining to satellite feeds in
immediately withdrawing the commercials, the order will be applicable from Monday, 08th March,
2010. In the meanwhile HUL has agreed to reduce the frequency of the ads, till its withdrawal.
The injunction has been granted on the following grounds:
a) The HUL ad depicted Tide Naturals whereas the voice-over was for Tide;
b) The laboratory reports produced by HUL under cover of two affidavits in support of its claim of
superior whiteness had inherent defects i.e., the ad drew comparison of samples of Tide and Tide
c) The Judgments quoted by HUL pertained to print media and not television or electronic media,
which have a wider impact and reach. Thus the Judgments were not applicable.
Friday, January 30, 2015 25
The following conclusions are drawn from the study:
The Advertising Code of Self-Regulation formulated by the Advertising Standards Council of India which was later
given legal recognition by notifying amendment in the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2006 is not
implemented properly and needs judicial recognition. It does not create an enforcement mechanism which has
Recourse must primarily be made to the existing legal protection under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Reliance on the common law remedy must be made in addition to and in supplementary of the existing statutory
protection, not independently.
Section 29(8) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 needs to be amended or interpreted in a way to include within its ambit
the cases of disparagement by non-depiction of the mark or the cases of disparagement which includes implied
Need to explore whether the remedy under the Competition Act, 2002 can be claimed in the cases of product
disparagement. Supreme Court in recent judgment has stated that in absence of the protection as prevailed under the
MRTP Act, it can approach Competition Commission, but has not pointed out the relevant provisions of the Act.
Litigation raised by the manufacturers only to gain popularity of their products. The recent rin v tide is the example
of the said situation. HUL stated that their claim is based on laboratory tests done through globally accepted
protocols in independent third-party laboratory test, but later it failed to substantiate their claims. Injunction should
not be granted unless damages claimed.
Fair Competition, Consumer’s interest and trader’s interest – Balancing.
Friday, January 30, 2015 28