Brands today are invariably one of the vital and significant wealth creators in the world. A brand’s future needs to address how to be better, stronger, more distinctive and more valued. Nowadays brands not only manifest letters, words and logos but also goes to encompass unconventional marks which may be in the nature of sound, smell and colour marks.
A brand is the identity of a product and assures of a quality attached to the product or services. An image of business is nowadays being treated as a brand and consumers associate the business with the brand. A brand thus generates the goodwill of the company also and, therefore, needs to be protected. Goodwill has become a component of the total value of an undertaking that is attributable to earn profits. Therefore, brand protection becomes inevitable in the present day scenario
Protection of brands by Banks and Financial Institutions is at a nascent stage. Till date there are limited private players in the banking sectors apart from Nationalized Banks which are being run by the Government. In India in order to seek license for running a bank the entity proposing to acquire license is required to do all compliances as per the Banking Regulation Act and only thereafter the entity is eligible to seek license to run a Bank in India.
Although with advent of time private banks have spread their branches, operations and existence all over in India but they have not thought to consider the need to protect their name and logo as a brand under the Trade Marks Act in India. Banks and financial institutions are more concerned of enhancing their operations and have not laid stress on protecting their logos and brands. The reason for not focusing on protection of their brands may be due to stringent banking laws and rules which prohibit any entity to operate a similar banking institution with an identical or similar without strict compliance of the Banking laws.
However the concern may be serious for future years when there is news that the Government is considering the need to grant more banking licenses to private players which may also include Big corporate who are already in the market covering a variety of sectors.
With proposed expansion of Banking and financial sector by encompassing various corporate giants there is a need to enhance the focus on brand protection in the banking and financial sector as well. Rapid growth of technology is evolving banking and financial sector into a completely unique commercial business module which may be watched very closely by copy cats who are in the habit of encashing upon the goodwill and reputation of another. The need to protect the brand in the banking and financial sector arises due to many reasons some of which are elucidated herein below –
Proposed emergence of various big players into the arena of banking and finance may result into the entire institution being more of commercial in nature rather following the old school of running banks and financial institutions for the benefit of the consumers.
Emergence of new entrants may lead to a situation wherein there may be an urge to copy the name and logos of the banking and institutions and dupe the common people to earn illegal benefits.
There may be a situation in times to come that the brands of banking and financial institutions are copied for selling different goods and services thereby giving an impressions that it is an extended form of services being offered by the banking and financial institutions.
As banks have not been very keen in proactively focusing in protecting their brands there has been infact very minimal or nil Judicial history of protecting of brands attached to Banks and Financial institutions.
However the Court’s intervention was succinctly manifested in a case filed by ICICI Bank in the Delhi High Court against a party who had deliberately and willfully violated the trademark ICICI by using the domain name www.icicigroup.com. It was pleaded by ICICI Bank that the very adoption of the said domain name www.icicigroup.com was dishonest and was confusingly similar to their trademark ICICI and domain name www.icicibank.com thereby amounting to infringement of the statutory rights in their mark. The Delhi High Court after examining the parameters of the case came to a conclusion that the adoption of the domain name www.icicigroup.com by the defendants in the matter was dishonest and ICICI Bank had established its case for grant of injunction in their favour.
Emergence of unconventional marks also saw Banking institution laying its hand on registration of an unconventional brand. One such example was when recently the Trademark Registry in India had granted registration to ICICI Bank Ltd for its sound mark by registering the very notes that form the jingle. ICICI Bank is the first Indian entity to obtain sound mark registration.
Although the trend of registration and protections in the Banking and Financial Sector has commenced but it is at a very nascent stage with a very long way of go in the light of anticipated enhancement of this sector in years to come.
With the proposed strategy of the Government to invite various players from the Private market to lay their hands in the banking and financial sector there is an immediate need to protect brands in this sector as well. In case no strategic and dynamic steps are taken to anticipate future misrepresentation there is a risk of genericism which may run proportionate to the strength of a brand. The more widely available and popular a product is, the more vulnerable it is to erosion. Like most things, prevention is better than cure. Once a trade mark falls foul of this fate, the job of protecting it becomes almost impossible.