Mumbai-based tea company Girnar Food and Beverages, which makes Royal Tea, has sued BigBasket, alleging that the online grocer is infringing Girnar’s ‘Royal’ trademark. A copy of the case can be accessed on the Bombay High Court website:

This story was first reported by Livemint. According to the publication, Girnar has alleged that  SuperMarket Grocery Supplies Pvt. Ltd, which runs BigBasket.com, is selling several products, including tea on its platforms using Girnar’s ‘Royal’ trademark. According to Girnar’s website, it sells several tea brands including Royal Cup Tea, which is apparently the company’s flagship brand.

Note that BigBasket’s Royal Tea is a white-label product, and is manufactured by a company called Mohani Tea — and not by BigBasket itself. Mohani Tea, the manufacturer, also makes branded tea for Apollo Pharmacy, Star Bazaar, Big Bazaar, D-Mart, Cafe Coffee Day, and Walmart, among others. Those clients’ tea products are not sold under the “Royal” wordmark like BigBasket’s is, though.

For context, here are the two brands’ tea products side by side:

Source: Amazon.in; BigBasket.com

BigBasket declined to comment on the suit.

E-commerce and trademark violations

Bigbasket is not the only e-commerce player facing legal troubles over trademark concerns. Earlier this month, a Mumbai-headquartered footwear brand Metro Shoes filed a case in the Bombay High Court against Flipkart alleging that the e-commerce company’s private label by the brand name of Metronaut is ‘deceptively’ similar to Metro, and has alleged Flipkart for trademark infringement.

Before that, in January this year, Delhi court had restrained Flipkart from using its private label brand MarQ on the account of trademark issues. Under its private label MarQ, Flipkart sells Air Conditioners, Washing Machines, TVs and Microwaves. The trouble started when a Delhi-based electric appliances maker Marc Enterprises (plaintiff) filed a case saying that Flipkart’s (defendant) MarQ is similar to its own name selling similar or identical goods, and that this is a violation of its trademark that it has been using since 1981 and registered in 1984.

Beside trademark issues, e-commerce players have also faced legal troubles for the cases of fake or counterfeit products being sold on all the major e-commerce marketplaces in India.

Intermediary Liability

Section 79 of the Information Technology Act offers safe harbour to intermediaries, provided they address complaints received and do not knowingly allow the usage of their platform to break the law. However, as we have pointed out several times earlier there is a need for better understanding of the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators. There’s no doubt that online aggregators and marketplaces are good for consumers and competition. But then who is accountable, when things get screwed up? And what about the liability of these platforms?