The spat between Indian food major Britannia and its French partner Groupe Danone over the intellectual property rights of Britannia's 'Tiger' brand has entered new territory.
Britannia has made a formal claim for the ownership of the 'Tiger' brand for food products worldwide, in an attempt to prevent the alleged "unauthorised" use of the brand by French food giant Danone in some overseas markets.
An Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) committee, set up by Britannia in May 2006 to look into all the matters relating to IPR, has reportedly asked Danone to expedite the transfer of all the IPRs of 'Tiger', which are registered in the name of the French major, according to sources close to the matter.
Danone, which became an equal joint venture partner with the Wadias in Britannia in 1994, has been allegedly using the 'Tiger' brand in markets outside India from 1999, according to sources close to Britannia.
Britannia launched the 'Tiger' brand for its biscuit category in India in 1997 to take on brands like Parle-G.
Independent directors on the Britannia board - Nimesh Kampani of JM Morgan Stanley, former petroleum secretary Vijay Kelkar and former Hindustan Lever chairman Keki Dadiseth — were part of the IPR Panel.
Danone admits that it has agreed in principle to return the intellectual property to Britannia.
Responding to an e-mail questionnaire, after repeated calls to the company went unanswered, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, Danone's public relations representative in India, said, "Britannia and Danone are working together on the terms and conditions of this return."
Danone is presently "reviewing the terms of return" with the IPR panel, the statement added.
Britannia, which had applied for global rights of the 'Tiger' brand, realised that the brand was registered in the name of Danone in some overseas markets, according to sources.
Danone allegedly used the 'Tiger' recipe in Indonesia in 1999. Since then, Danone is said to have extended the brand to "several" countries.
Danone is believed to have used the 'Tiger' brand for its milk drink in Indonesia, claim sources. Danone denied that it was selling any product under the 'Tiger' brand in the Indonesian market.
Britannia feels otherwise. A Britannia spokesperson said: "Indonesia is included in the list of countries where Danone is using the 'Tiger' mnemonic, graphic and device, not just for biscuits but also for the newly launched milk drink."
Though Britannia had three Danone directors on its board, they did not inform Britannia that the French co-promoter had registered the brand in some countries, claims a source.
Said a Britannia spokesperson: "The 'Tiger' brand was created and developed by Britannia in its entirety as a health proposition and integral to the core essence and intellectual property of Britannia.
"It was successfully launched in 1997 and is one of the largest brands in the Britannia portfolio. Based on its success in India, Danone has used brand 'Tiger' for biscuits and other products in several countries outside India.
"These issues are currently being addressed by a committee appointed by the board in May 2006, to deal with all intellectual property of the company."
Danone stated that there was a "reciprocal exchange of technical cooperation and intellectual property" between the two entities. "This exchange", said Danone, "has been made with the full knowledge and support of the Britannia management."
According to Danone, these "exchanges" were never formalised, the process of which is currently being addressed between the Britannia committee and Danone.
Britannia, which has reported gross sales of Rs 1,817 crore during the year ended March 31, 2006, is now seeking protection of the IPR rights since it wants to expand the brand into global markets.
The 'Tiger' brand has grown by around 40 per cent in the Indian market during the last quarter.
Britannia is now renovating the brand with the re-staging of 'Tiger' brand glucose and cream biscuits.