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The curious case of Rubiks Cube

Yet another, crisp judgment by Justice G.S Patel of the Bombay High Court, has set the balance of convenience right in favour of trademark owners. In a case dealing with the use of “Rubik cube” as a name of an upcoming movie, despite having no connection with the popular Rubik’s cube, Justice Patel has exhibited marvellous rationality in restraining the makers of the movie in using this name for their movie title.

In the case of Rubiks Brand Ltd & Anr v. Mahesh Manjrekar &Ors, the plaintiffs, the proprietors of the Rubik’s Cube brand, alleged infringement of their trademark “Rubik’s Cube”, and brought an action of passing-off against the defendants, for using the same in their film titled “Rubik’s Cube”. The Judge righty granted ad-interim injunction against the defendants. The Judge described the Rubik’s Cube puzzle as one that is extremely popular, and one that has “almost legendary status” in the public domain. The Judge seemed almost disbelieving of the fact that defendant 1, a film-maker of some repute, thought he could freely adopt and use at will the name of the aforementioned puzzle. The Judge noted that the defendant should be disabused of this faulty notion at the earliest.

The plaintiffs filed voluminous evidence to support their claims to the mark. They submitted that they had international registrations, exclusive rights to the markets, and that the term “Rubik’s Cube” was an invented one, and was coined to refer to the puzzle in question alone. The Judge readily accepted these arguments, and noted that “Rubik’s Cube” connoted only one item, and that was the toy/puzzle in question; and that notwithstanding the many variants of the puzzle, the mark refers only to the puzzle, and came solely from the plaintiffs and no one else. Insofar as the question of reputation and goodwill went, the Judge was of the opinion that the Defendants had no submissions that could assail the Plaintiff’s claim to both ie. the reputation or the goodwill related to their product “rubik’s cube”.

The Judge stated that he was not concerned with the intention of the defendant in adopting the mark as the title of his film. According to him, intention is immaterial to a case of passing-off, and fraud is not a necessary element to such a case. The Judge did find that the defendant was guilty of misrepresentation, though, as anyone who heard the title of the film would be led to believe that the film has something to do with the plaintiff’s well-known mark, that of a popular puzzle or toy.

The Judge found that the defendants’ knowledge of the plaintiff’s mark was apparent from the promotional posters of the film that used 4 of the 6 colours of the puzzle, and the tag-line of the film directly referenced the puzzle. The Judge expressed that considerable damage would have been caused to the plaintiffs already in terms of dilution of their brand and trademark. The cease-and-desist letter that the plaintiffs sent to the defendants did not get a reply until after the suit was filed. The Judge ruled that these were enough grounds to sustain the presumption that a prima-facie case has been made out in favour of the plaintiffs, and hence the ad-interim injunction was justified.

The Judge directed the defendants to restrain from continuing to work on any film or material bearing the name of the plaintiff’s mark. There was no question of the film actually releasing with the title it currently had.