The £5-billion Scotch whisky industry is celebrating a recent decision by one of India’s new commercial courts that granted permanent injunctions against three Indian companies which were passing off products as “Scotch”.
Commercial courts were set up early this year to resolve actions promptly and efficiently. Two months after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) filed proceedings, the court announced its judgement in February, to much cheer in Scotland.
Protected by Geographical Indication (GI) and other rules, the industry has taken action in India and several other countries where locally produced alcohol is allegedly passed off as Scotch.
The commercial court passed the injunctions against three related companies in India – Oasis Distilleries Ltd, Adie Broswon Distillers & Bottlers Pvt Ltd and Malbros International Pvt Ltd. The court prohibited them from selling whiskies produced in India with references on their labels to Scotch, Scotch Whisky or Scotland.
“Such decisions can only be good for Scotch in India, and for consumers. Let’s raise a dram to that,” the SWA said.
The companies were also prohibited from using any words, names, images or devices evocative of Scotland or Scotch Whisky unless the product is genuine Scotch Whisky, the SWA said.
The proceedings related to three “whiskies”, Royal Arms, Blue Patrol and Malbros, that allegedly referred to Scotch Whisky on their labelling.
The SWA said: “This court decision represents a number of legal ‘firsts’ that we have welcomed. This was the first action we raised using measures in the Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme.”
The scheme was launched in January 2014 to give consumers of Scotch Whisky around the world greater reassurance that they were buying the genuine article.
It seeks to ensure that every part of the Scotch Whisky supply chain across the globe, from distiller to bottler, is mapped by the industry and registered with the UK government to ensure it complies fully with all production and bottling rules.
Bottlers outside Scotland wanting to use Scotch Whisky as a constituent in a local spirit need to be verified under the scheme. None of the three companies described as the bottlers of these brands were listed under the Verification Scheme.
“We argued that this indicated that since at least 10 January 2015 the defendants could not have been supplied with bulk Scotch Whisky for blending and bottling. But by September 2015 all three products were still advertised on an Oasis Group website with marketing, labelling and packaging referring to Scotch Whisky,” the SWA said.
“We said that the absence of verification suggested there was no Scotch Whisky in the products, meaning they infringed the SWA’s registration of ‘Scotch Whisky’ in India as a geographical indication (GI).
“We also argued that the ‘additional protection’ granted to Scotch Whisky under the Indian GI Act meant no reference could be made to Scotch Whisky in the labelling or advertising of a whisky produced in India, even if it contained some Scotch,” the SWA added.
It was also pointed out the labelling, packaging and advertising of the products was misleading and this infringed the registered GI, “Scotch Whisky”, and amounted to “passing off”.