No manufacturer can claim exclusive ownership of the region’s name, the Supreme Court has ruled

Kerala’s bonds with the Arab world date back much further than the oil boom and Gulf jobs. Its favourable location on trade routes has meant a distinct Arabian influence on the cuisine, particularly that of the Muslim population of the Malabar region.

There is ‘alisa’, a porridge with meat, similar to ‘harissa’, popular in west Asia, and a sort of chappati — but made with rice flour, not wheat — called ‘ari pathiri’, and of course there is the Malabar biryani, which uses cashew nuts and dry fruit.

Now, if there’s one perennial, unresolvable, fun and quintessentially Indian debate that comes close to which variety of mango is best, it is about which kind of biryani is tastiest. The people of Malabar have no doubt that their version is the most delectable. So much so that a couple of competing brands have battled in the courts over owner- ship of the word.

Recipe for conflict

The flames were first lit in the Calcutta HC in 2012, when Parakh Vanijya Private Limited alleged that Baroma Agro Products’ use of the mark Malabar Gold for its ‘special biryani rice’ amounted to an infringement. Parakh claimed it was using the word Malabar since 2001, and Baroma’s biryani rice label was identical and deceptively similar to its own mark.

The Calcutta HC found some similarity between the two labels, and restrained Baroma from using the mark for the time being. A Division Bench also agreed.

Baroma kept the fire burning, moving the Calcutta High Court to vacate the 2012 order, alleging that Parakh was relying on ‘fabricated documents’ and that the company could not claim exclusive right over the word Malabar.

In 2016, the HC sought to douse the coals and balance the interests of both parties, considering their substantial turnovers; it allowed Baroma to use the label Malabar with an increase in type size of not more than 25% of the rest of the words or letters on the pack.

Now, it was Parakh’s turn to strike back: the company moved the Supreme Court.

On July 12, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R. Banumathi noted that Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Company manufactured Malabar Monsoon, and Tropical Retreats used Malabar Coast for its range of coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar and other products, and that the rules of registration itself were against any company claiming exclusivity over the term Malabar.

Justice Banumathi, who wrote the judgment for the Bench, concluded, “Since there is a disclaimer to the exclusive use of the word ‘Malabar’, the appellant has no right over the exclusive use of the word.’

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