For those of you who decided to read the article based on the title, expecting some hard hitting piece of English prose on India and US talks on IP based on the issue of pharma patents and the like; I’m sorry to disappoint. I started off this post with a very simple question in mind as to whether the political parties contesting the elections in India have their names, symbols or slogans trademarked or not.

After a basic search with the Trademark Registry in all the service classes and the relevant product classes, I’m afraid I couldn’t find a trademark application, either for the Indian National Congress (Congress), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nor the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the three main contenders at the national level for the 2014 elections. Neither the party’s name nor the symbols of the Hand the Lotus and the broom have been registered or even applied for with the Registry. Perhaps the parties are content with the extent of usage that they have in order to deal with any contentious issue on the basis of ‘’passing off”

But then again, along with the Indian National Congress, we have the All India Trinamool Congress, All India N.R. Congress. Similarly there is the Communist Part of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). On a state level in Tamil Nadu, you have the DMK, AIADMK, DMDK, AILDMK, DMMK, DTMK, ATMK which does make it just a little more complicated but still apparently doesn’t merit the filing of a trademark application.

Getting the trademarks registered though may also prove to be rather difficult; the Congress Party uses the Indian Flag with the symbol of the Hand instead of the chakra (wheel). If the party was to apply for that trademark it would definitely be shot down by the Trademark Registry since it would be prohibited under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act. The BJP has raised the issue with the Supreme Court this year stating that the tricolor should not be used any political party, According to the petitioner of the Writ,

The Congress has exploited sentiments of common people and has emotionally blackmailed countrymen by using the Tricolour which has three colours in the same order as the National Flag

So clearly trademark confusion may not be such a bad thing in the political arena if it brings in more votes – (Er.. CPI or CPIM…which one was the one I wanted… oh screw it… I’ll go with the button on the left!)

The only application we found though was for the Trademark NAMO TEA PARTY, which stems from one of the political barbs, turned badge about BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate and Narendra Modi and his tea selling days. Oddly enough the trademark application has been filed in class 45 for “personal and social services rendered to meet the needs of individuals” which is rather vague and broad.

On a basic level though, what is the purpose of a trademark? It started off as a name of sign or some distinguishing feature that set apart one person’s products in the trade from others. This was also extended to include service providers. Going by that logic, political parties don’t sell products and as to whether they provide a service or not, I’ll leave that to you to decide. Either way, most applications for slogans, and symbols would have to be applied for and filed in product classes like Class 16 for pamphlets, and papers, Class 25 for T-shirts and merchandise etc (where the parties would be displaying their trademarks)

I wonder what the situation is like in other countries though. I do know that in the US, there are applications for the GOP and the elephant for the Republicans and several logos for the democrats. So if you know if your political parties have trademarks registered and or if they’ve been filed in interesting classes or if you think that it is a total waste of time for parties to file applications; or I got the whole thing wrong and each of these parties have hundreds of applications with the Registry; I’d be happy to hear from you.

This article has been authored by Navarre Roy, an IP Law practitioner.