In what could have a bearing on a large number of trademark disputes, more than 44,000 files have gone missing from Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata branches of the Trade Marks Registry (TMR).
Terming the situation as alarming, the Delhi high court has asked the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), which falls under the ministry of commerce, to lodge an FIR and take immediate steps to trace the files.
Authorities have also been told to fix responsibility.
The main function of TMR, set up in 1940 and comes within the purview of DIPP, is to register trademarks.
"It is alarming that as many as 44,404 files of trademark registrations have gone missing since 2006 and this fact remained unknown to TMR and DIPP till an enquiry was ordered by this court," justice S Muralidhar said.
The court ordered the probe on April 8 while hearing a trademark dispute between Haldiram India Pvt Ltd and M/s Haldiram Madanlal on usage of word bhujiawala.
When Haldiram India sought a direction to TMR to allow inspection of the trademark registration file, it was told the file was missing.
The company then moved court against the registry.
Fearing an adverse bearing on trademark disputes in courts across the country, the court said a large number of parties possibly didn't even know that the files were missing.
"Substantial rights are at stake. Several disputes will now remain unresolved," said trademarks and patents lawyer Pratibha Singh.
"The trademark office needs to be made answerable."
A large number of files in patent cases were also missing, she said.
"Foul play cannot be ruled out. There has to be a thorough probe and accountability fixed."
"What is disconcerting is that even TMR has no real answer as to who caused these many files to go missing and when exactly they went missing," the court said.