Mind your language Intellectual property police could be lurking with intent

Published: Monday 30 April 2007

going by recent developments in the world of intellectual property disputes, it appears that being extremely cautious while dipping into one's lexicographical reservoir will not qualify as a form of litigation-induced paranoia. Consider this seemingly innocuous tableau. You are in the company of friends, say, at India Gate, enjoying a cool, nocturnal respite from a gruelling, incinerating summer day with an ice cream in hand. Being more relaxed than most people, you let slip a short paean of appreciation "This ice cream," you say, "is really cool and tasty." Back home, the first thing you see is a legal notice, possibly slipped in under the door, requiring you to explain in full in an appropriate court of law how you could possibly have taken leave of your senses to the extent of describing company X's ice cream in the manner you did, when it's universally known that anyone who has enough brains to be able to fish his wallet out of his hip pocket should be aware that company Y has a trademark right over "cool and tasty".

Well, it's not that bad yet, but with Cadila's claim that it has rights over the phrase sugar free--hyphenated, one word, two words?--we are getting there. The Delhi High Court, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to stop Amul from marketing a planned sugar-free ice cream, with Cadila arguing that it has applied for a trademark on these two hitherto uncontroversial words.

In these days, dominated by the World Trade Organization and trips, it is perhaps time to shift focus from intellectual property to intellectual propriety. Should we succeed, Cadila may be moved to acknowledge its debt to millions of people and historical processes that have played a role in bringing the two disputed words into existence. Even if it doesn't abandon its pursuit of monopolies, it can perhaps make a contribution to a worthwhile lexical cause.

Cynics might say that the Cadila management has no illusion about its proprietary rights over small bits or vast swathes of the English language and that its legal gambit could be a simple ploy to hobble a competitor as temperatures get into peak summer stride. But bearing in mind the logical possibilities, this might just be the time to file an intervening application in the case in a pre-emptive defence of the freedom of speech.

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