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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Hindustan Unilever loses trademark case for Sunlight brand to little known Kerala-based Thai Group

HUL's contention has been that Sun, Sunlight and Sunsilk are its registered trademarks, which Ashique and Aghin had trespassed on. However, the Bombay High Court in its order last week dismissed HUL's interim application on the grounds that the consumer products giant had not used its registered mark for detergent Sun ever since it got it registered 60 years ago.
An HUL spokesman said in response to an ET query: "Last year, HUL filed a suit against Ashique Chemicals for infringement of its registered trademarks Sun and Sunlight. We are examining the detailed order passed at the interim stage of this case and would take appropriate steps to protect Sun and Sunlight, which is a household brand in India."
When contacted, Biju S Vaidyar, manager (legal) at Thai Group of Companies, responded on email: "We independently conceived and adopted the distinctive trademark from June 1997."
 Sunlight's all-India share is estimated to be less than 2-3% and the brand doesn't even have a national presence; yet it is strong in Kerala and West Bengal, and HUL would be keenly following the brand's performance in those markets.
"HUL is focusing on all its regional brands across categories, as much as it on mainstream ones," says Anand Mour, vice president (FMCG and retail) at brokerage firm Indiabulls Securities. Globally, Sunlight has now been extended from soap to a range of hand dishwashing liquids such as Sunlight Standard Lemon and Standard Lime.
Sunlight was launched in India in 1888. However, once detergent powders became popular, HUL began to push brands like Surf, Wheel and Rin. While Wheel was pitched against Nirma, Sunlight failed to make a mark nationally.
The Thai group, founded by Kerala-based entrepreneur PC Thahir in 1984, initially began with cement marketing. It later diversified into consumer products such as soaps, detergents and shampoos. Ashique Chemicals and Aghin Chemicals are among its group firms selling detergent powder brands like Starlight and Sunplus. The Thai Group earns revenues worth about 10 crore annually across India from Sunplus.
This is the second time HUL has dragged a rival to court over Sunlight detergent-three years back it had filed a suit against P&G for alleged infringement of the Sunlight trademark by P&G's Tide detergent.

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