Sanofi v. Zanofi: Of Trademarks & Company Names

In a case argued by Remfry & Sagar, the Delhi High Court permanently injuncted use of the trademark/name ZANOFI (deceptively similar to prior registered trademark SANOFI) and clarified that in cases of infringement involving a ‘trade name/corporate name’, a defendant cannot use its ‘old/former name’ for a period of 2 years along with the ‘new name’ (as per Section 12(3) of the Companies Act, 2013).

Sanofi, one of the largest pharmaceutical groups in the world, has been using the trademark/ trade name/house mark SANOFI since 1973 – products bearing this mark were introduced in the market in the 1980s. The instant suit was filed against use of the trademark ZANOFI as part of the defendant’s corporate name ZANOFI PHARMACEUTICAL PRIVATE LIMITED. The defendant argued that the marks SANOFI and ZANOFI were distinct. However, the Court found them phonetically nearly identical and vide order dated December 19, 2023, restrained the defendant from using the trademark/name ZANOFI. The defendant was further directed to apply for change of company name within a week and the Registrar of Companies asked to process the application expeditiously within a period of six weeks.

The defendant applied for a new company name ‘Naltisam Pharmaceutical Private Limited’ and a certificate in this regard was issued by the Registrar of Companies. However, in compliance with Section 12(3) of the Companies Act, 2013, a note was appended with the said certificate requiring the defendant to display its former name for 2 years along with the new name. The defendant filed an application seeking clarification from the Court and Sanofi put forth that Section 12 was only applicable where the company name was changed voluntarily, and not where the change was directed by a court’s order related to a finding of trademark infringement.

The Court observed that the whole idea of rectification or injunction is to restrain the use of a deceptively similar mark which could lead to confusion in the minds of the public and the scheme of Section 12(3) ran contrary to this objective. Thus, the Defendant was permanently restrained from using the trade mark/ name ZANOFI and was further directed to display only the new name in all its goods, services, packaging or promotional material.

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