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A Matunga cafe wins the battle for Madras

By N Sundaresha Subramanian
March 14, 2015 08:20 IST

Bombay High Court relief for iconic eatery in the Cafe Madras trademark violation case against Jalgaon-based rival.

In a narrow lane, there stands an unassuming eatery. A few steps lead into it. The space is not large: A few tables at the entry, with the proprietor at a high seat at the counter.

Opposite the entrance is the kitchen. Customers share tables: Large groups or families may spread across several tables and a solitary customer may find himself rubbing elbows with a complete stranger.

Some thought this sounded like a write-up on review portal Zomato.com. But, in fact, this was a Bombay High Court judge, G S Patel, speaking about a Matunga restaurant.

Seventy-five-year Cafe Madras had inspired the judge to begin his order this way earlier this week.

"This is Cafe Madras, the south Indian or, more accurately, Udipi cuisine speciality sit-down restaurant, owned and managed by the plaintiffs (the Kamaths), and it is popular and renowned," the order said, granting relief to the plaintiffs against Lime & Chilli Hospitality Services.

The latter had set up restaurants using the same name, Cafe Madras, in Nashik and Jalgaon in Maharashtra.

The Matunga restaurant, known for its cleanliness and quick services, was established by Gopal Purshottam Kamath.

His sons Jagdish Kamath and Suresh Kamath and grandchildren manage it through a partnership firm called GP Kamath & Co. In 2012, when the petition was filed, the restaurant had an annual turnover of nearly Rs 1 crore.

On December 29, 1968, Gopal and his elder son, Jagdish, entered a partnership called Cafe Madras.

The Cafe Madras mark was brought into that partnership.

Ten years later, on July 20, 1978, GP Kamath & Co, a partnership firm was formed.

It took over the businesses of Cafe Madras and Gopalkrishna Hindu Hotel. From 1978, the firm was periodically reconstituted. The last change was in 2011, when it became a partnership of Jagdish, Suresh, and the next generation comprising Devvrat, Jaiprakash and Gopalkrishna.

Kamaths had said that Jalgaon-based Lime & Chilli had copied their registered marks "body and soul".

The adoption was "fraudulent and dishonest and it is used for eateries serving south Indian cuisine, and located in Jalgaon and Nashik". Also, there was an incident of a rat being found in the food at one of Lime & Chilli's restaurants.

This caused damage to the reputation and the goodwill, the Kamaths' petition had argued. Kamaths were able to establish that newspaper reports published about the incident referred to Madras Cafe and Cafe Madras and did not have any reference to Lime & Chilli, leading to reputational loss for them.

Lime & Chilli, through its advocate, Rahul Ajat Shatru, claimed it had established its restaurant as early as 2004 and the Kamaths' petition in 2012 was too late.

But the court found it could not establish these claims. The court said, "There is little to support the assertion of this date. Sales and promotional expenses are shown, but from 2006-2007. These are also disputed. The ministry of corporate affairs' records showed that Lime & Chilli was incorporated in 2008, with an authorised capital of Rs 25 lakh and had Tushar Ramdas Pethakar and Ramdas Dayaram Pethakar as directors." Elsewhere, judge Patel picked the filter coffee from a Cafe Madras menu to explain the flaw in the Lime & Chilli argument.

The fallacy in Ajat Shatru's submission is in filtering the Cafe out of the decoction, leaving only the disclaimed word Madras or, to put it differently, in suggesting that the plaintiffs claim some sort of monopoly or exclusivity in the word Cafe, the word Madras having been subjected to a condition of non-exclusivity. The plaintiffs claim nothing of the kind.

They lay no claim to the word Cafe nor the word Madras taken separately or disjunctively. The claim is to the expression taken as a whole, and it falls squarely within the Section 17(1) of the Trade Marks Act.

The Cafe Madras's petition for a cease-and-desist notice was allowed, while at the request of the defendant, the operation of this order was stayed for three weeks. 

HOT LICKS AT THE CAFE MADRAS

Café Madras had said that Jalgaon-based Lime & Chilli had copied its registered marks.

The adoption was “used for eateries serving south Indian cuisine in Jalgaon and Nashik”. Also, there was an incident of a rat being found in the food at one of Lime & Chilli’s restaurants.

This caused damage to the reputation and the goodwill, the Café Madras’ petition argued Café Madras showed reports about the incident referred to Madras Café and Café Madras and did not have any reference to Lime & Chilli, leading to reputational loss for them

Photograph: Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

N Sundaresha Subramanian
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