Sports goods maker Adidas dragged its rival Nike and the Board of Control for Cricket in India to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission over use of Sachin Tendulkar's images for endorsements when he is not playing for the country.
Accepting Adidas's petition, an MRTPC bench, headed by Justice O P Dwivedi, issued notices to Nike India, the BCCI, Tendulkar and his business managing firm Iconix, asking them to file replies within three weeks. It also asked Adidas to file a rejoinder within two weeks from the receipt of replies.
During the proceedings, Adidas alleged that Nike was violating its exclusive personal endorsement agreement with Tendulkar by using his name for promoting its products.
Adidas also argued that the BCCI granted Nike only sponsorship and licensing rights and trademarks of the batsman only while playing for the country.
Nike had won the five-year sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team in 2005, outbidding Reebok and Adidas.
"Sachin Tendulkar is our brand ambassador since 1997 and ... [this] is in public perception not only in India but globally too... What is the basis of their right," Adidas counsel Shailendra K Kapoor said.
"Nike tried to indicate that Sachin's brand name was with them, which is an unfair trade practice by them. We are the exclusive owner of that brand name globally," he said, urging the Commission to restrain Nike from "deceiving public".
However, declining any immediate relief to Adidas, the MRTPC Bench said: "When you have waited for six months, then wait for one more month."
The matter was then posted for hearing in July.
Kapoor said Adidas had sent Nike evidence of its exclusive endorsement rights with the cricket star, including a letter written by Tendulkar. He also produced a Nike sports T-shirt before the commission bearing his name and number on its reverse.
In the letter, Tendulkar confirmed he has an exclusive deal with Adidas, and Nike has no right to use his name in individual capacity. The cricket star has also stated that Adidas's loss would also be his personal loss.
"Personal endorsement right was never subject to Nike's contract with the BCCI for sponsorship of Indian cricket squad... for that they would have to deal with the cricketers independently... This was also never denied by Nike," Adidas's counsel contended, seeking compensation from its rival.
Adidas, however, added that the company has not assessed the quantum of financial damages caused by Nike.
On being asked by the bench what was Nike and BCCI's stand on the notices issued, Adidas said they did not reply.
"Instead, Nike asked us to disclose the agreement with Sachin and all financial details of that. How can we publicly show all the financial deals.
"Nike behaved as if it was running a trial and passing orders on us. They even do not recognise Tendulkar's right with Iconix (his brand manager)," the company said, adding it was also a trademark violation case.
The counsel contended that Tendulkar and Iconix are only performa respondents and made party to the case to state before the commission that the former has exclusive personal endorsement rights with Adidas.
The BCCI has a five-year contract with Nike for the team's on-field clothing. Nike had won the sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team in 2005 with a bid of Rs 199.66 crore, beating Reebok, whose bid stood at Rs 119.48 crore, and Adidas, who bid Rs 127.50 crore.