An Empirical Analysis of ‘Scandalous’ and ‘Obscene’ Trade Marks in India


An Empirical Analysis of ‘Scandalous’ and ‘Obscene’ Trade Marks in India

M P Ram Mohan, Aditya Gupta and Vijay V Venkitesh

Working Papers

  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • twitter
  • whatsapp

Morality-based restrictions on trademarks have gained widespread acceptance since their statutory recognition in 1875, appearing in the domestic statutory language of 163 out of 164 WTO member states. Building upon earlier conceptual work, this study empirically examines the administration of India's iteration of moral-based trademark limitations, which prohibit the registration of scandalous or obscene marks. Expanding on a prior anecdotal and purposive study, the authors create a novel dataset to analyze the implementation of the provision. The dataset examines 1.6 million trademark examination reports filed between 2018-2022. Through auto-coding, the authors identify 140 applications objected for containing scandalous or obscene matter. A systematic analysis classifies the objections into three categories - those concurrently raising relative and absolute grounds of refusal, successful circumvention of morality objections through ambiguity, and an alarming lack of objections for potentially offensive marks. The findings provide empirical evidence in the administration of morality-based proscriptions in India.