Family trademarks are marks which are used by a person for his family business, where the trademark ownership lies with each member of the family. Such trademarks provide parallel rights for use of the mark, thus, protecting each heir under the doctrine of shared goodwill and common family legacy. However, the issue arises when the business splits up in two or more heirs and often results in disputes regarding the trademark infringement and trademark ownership. For instance, the Ambani brothers had gone through similar dispute when their family business under the mark “Reliance” got divided among the two brothers, which was eventually settled up through coexistence and other mutual cooperation agreements.

The courts in India on few instances have clarified the rules regarding family trademarks. The cases for claiming sole proprietorship over such family trademarks are generally filed under trademark infringement, passing off etc.

In SRF Foundation v Shri Ram Education Trust [(2016)182PLR3], both the parties are sons of Bharat Ram and grandsons of Sir Shri Ram. It was contended by the plaintiffs that they are the prior adopter of the mark THE SHRI RAM SCHOOL and the defendants are using the same mark for similar services in order to trade upon the plaintiff’s mark. The defendant denied the allegations stating that the other family members had established at least six educational institutions making use of the SHRI RAM name prior to the Plaintiffs. The Defendant further contended that he is entitled to use SHRI RAM for its schools owing to common family lineage shared between the parties, the goodwill and reputation in SHRI RAM have always been shared equally by all members of the family. It is also contended that the manner of use of the trademarks of the Defendant and the Plaintiffs are materially different from one another.

The Court held that both the brothers having a common lineage, prima facie have common rights and cannot exclude the other from using the subject mark. The mark SHRI RAM was first used by Late Sir Shri Ram, who established several educational institutions. Subsequently, the name SHRI RAM was adopted by the family in relation to their respective endeavours. Hence, the adoption of the mark SHRI RAM by the Defendant was not mala fide and parties were given concurrent rights to use the mark for similar services.

The Court further held that the goodwill and reputation in the trademark adopted by the grandfather shall endure to the benefit of all the heirs unless something to the contrary is shown so as to exclude the other heirs. One member of the family cannot claim sole and exclusive ownership of the mark. All the heirs of the person who first adopted a mark and put the same to use and earned goodwill and reputation shall, prima facie, have equal rights to adopt and use the same.


As seen above, in a general case it is not possible to claim sole proprietorship over family trademarks. Accordingly, there are few means to use the family trademarks with other family members without facing any legal dispute. The possible way-out could be co-existence, non-compete agreement through which all the family members can use the family trademark simultaneously, for different specifications of goods/services to avoid any conflict among all.

In few exceptional cases, a person may be entitled to use the family trademark in respect of specific goods or services to the exclusion of all other family members. Prima facie, in order to claim sole and exclusive right over the family trademark, a member has to prove that he is the prior and continuous user of the mark. Also, he would have to establish that the mark by extensive use is only associated with himself and no one else.

We hope this article helped you learn about the ownership of family trademarks. You may also want to see our article on joint ownership of a trademark in India.