Our Senior Associate, Ajaya Kumar discusses “Virtual Hearings at the Trade Marks Registry”
Much like many establishments in the legal field, the Trade Marks Registry has quickly adapted to a new working style—from offline to online! In a big announcement made late last year, the Registry commenced virtual hearings in October 2020!
In late October 2020, the Registry first began oral hearings on objections raised with respect to trade mark applications. Since then, these hearings, also known as show-cause hearings, have been held regularly, leading to a reduction in backlog of pendency of applications. At this time, the Registry is scheduling virtual hearings for applications that are extensions of international registrations within four (4) to six (6) months from the date of filing responses to provisional refusal. Hearings on national applications are also being scheduled fairly regularly. In our view, the virtual hearing system has worked well so far. Links are sent timely and the number of hearings on a daily basis is high. One big change from the days of in-person hearings is that a hearing officer need not necessarily be situated in the Trade Marks Registry’s Office that has jurisdiction to hear a matter. An application might have been filed by a lawyer sitting in Delhi, and the hearing officer might be in Chennai! This is a significant change and one that has led to efficiency and better scrutiny of applications. Hearing Officers also expect attorneys to have uploaded necessary additional supporting documents on the Registry’s online portal in advance of a hearing. Orders are pronounced either at the conclusion of a hearing or sometime after. These oral hearings have worked well and the Registry continues the good pace in making decisions on applications. Typically, applications are published for opposition purposes within two (2) to three (3) weeks from the date of orders.
Recently the Registry has also commenced virtual hearings in opposition/cancellation matters. As a result recently filed proceedings are moving quite quickly. A majority of such hearings are in respect of procedural issues, such as non-timely filing of the counter statement/evidence affidavit and or letter in lieu of evidence in support of opposition/application. The Registry is also instituting final hearings in respect of older opposition/ cancellation matters. For such substantive hearings, it is a good idea to prepare and file written submissions prior to the hearings, so that the hearing officers have time to go through the matter briefly before making any decision. Such written submissions will also assist while making arguments before the officers
Clearly, the Trade Marks Registry has made immense progress insofar as hearings are concerned. These online hearings have, undoubtedly, also helped, in a small way, to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus while keeping business going.