Comparison in General: The Perils of Generic Disparagement

Surup Ray Chaudhuri, Associate Vice President - Legal, The Indian Hotels Company Limited, India

In the midst of a lockdown due to the unprecedented outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Bar&Bench reported that in a disparagement suit filed by Hindustan Unilever Limited, Reckitt Benckiser agreed to discontinue the airing of the impugned advertisement from 12.00pm on March 22, 2020 till 5.00pm on April 21, 2020. It was very interesting to note that in the plaint, Hindustan Unilever Limited pleaded the following: “In fact, when the world is struggling to control Corona Virus outbreak, the guidelines prescribed by WHO clearly recommend that washing hands with soap and water is one of the essential and most effective way to protect yourself from such a virus. Other products such as alcohol based sanitisers etc. are recommended only when soap and water is not available. Moreover, nations across the world are communicating just the opposite and asking people to wash their hands with soaps and water whereas the Defendant is creating scare amongst the general public by falsely propagating that soaps are useless by maligning the market leader in the soaps category. When the need of the hour is for everyone to come together and work towards common good, the Defendant’s action is irresponsible and against public morality. Such advertisement is detrimental particularly in a country like India where larger population is traditionally not using multiple products for their hygiene needs but relying predominantly on soap alone.” The interesting aspect of this argument by Hindustan Unilever Limited is not merely of specific disparagement of their product, but an argument of generic disparagement of a category of products, especially at a time when handwashing and hand hygiene has attained utmost importance.

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India Advertising Leisure May 2020 Vol.13, No. 51, Spring 2020

Surup Ray Chaudhuri

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Surup Ray Chaudhuri, comes from the hill town of Shillong in northeast India. Having completed his secondary education in Shillong, he moved to Bangalore to pursue his Bachelors in Law. He started working in-house right after law school, starting with J.P. Morgan and Chase, in 2010. After a brief stint there, he moved to Mindteck India Ltd., a software services company in Bangalore, where he worked for about a year and a half. He was then recruited in Hindustan Unilever Limited in April, 2012. He worked as the Legal Business Partner for the Personal Care Business, along with the Global Legal Business Partner for two brands globally, Lifebuoy and Fair & Lovely. In his role, he was responsible for advising the Marketing division on all legal matters, right from the initiation of a product concept, till its market launch. After two promotions and a five years in the organisation, he decided to move on to another sector, and joined The Indian Hotels Company Limited in June, 2017. He is currently the Associate Vice President – Legal, in which role, his team are responsible for all legal matters in the northern zone of the company. He also partners with the Business Development team on all matters in the northern zone, along with international hotel projects in the Middle Eastern region. In his role, he reports to the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the company.

The Indian Hotels Company Limited

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The Indian Hotels Company Limited (“IHCL”) is Asia’s largest hotel company, having commenced its operations in the year 1903, when it opened its first Hotel – the iconic The Taj Mahal Palace. This company was incorporated by the founder of the Tata Group, Jamsetji Tata. IHCL holds the distinction of being the first company to bring luxury hospitality in India. It boasts of many firsts, including the first licensed bar, the first electric elevator, the first to open the doors of real palaces for guests, and more recently, the first building (The Taj Mahal Palace and Towers) to be protected by a trademark registration in India. Being a part of the iconic Tata Group, it is recognised for its iconic hospitality, and its legendary culture, embodied in its spirit, referred to as ‘Tajness’. Today, IHCL boasts of having hotels across 100+ locations across 4 continents.

India Advertising Leisure May 2020 Vol.13, No. 51, Spring 2020

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