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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