‘Jio act’ exposes weak ambush marketing laws?

Reliance Jio is out to grab the major the telecom market share. The brand has changed the dynamics of Indian telecom market with its aggressive marketing. Jio now is blazing all guns to rest best mileage from the Indian Premier League. It’s on seven of the eight teams. It has shot TVCs with each of the seven teams. Is promoting heavily its team videos on air during teams’ respective matches.

Only Jio could afford. And only Jio has done the best in the interest of telecom users to create at 100 million subscribers. Even if it has offended rivals like Airtel, who had to knock at the doors of the telecom watchdog – Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. TRAI has also issued orders to reign in Reliance to protect its rivals’ interest.

Vodafone may cry foul next. Over what happened during the Mumbai Indians-Sunrisers Hyderabad match at Mumbai last week. It was home ground of the Mumbai Indians franchisee Reliance. Also brand Jio owners. The host franchisee used the occasion to promote brand Jio. In an innovative manner, which may make Vodafone cry foul though.

Jio with ‘Mexican waves’ created a position, similar to the brand logo, in the stands, which were often on TV cameras during live broadcast. This ‘ambush market’ did not go unnoticed. Purpose served for the brand. Purpose defeated for the rival. This is not an isolated incident of ambush marketing in sports. No cricket lover can easily forget the instance of 1996 cricket World Cup where Coca Cola was the official sponsor but its sponsorship was clearly overshadowed and ambushed by Pepsi’s cheeky and catchy slogan “nothing official about it”.


Incidentally, India has not enacted specific anti-ambush marketing laws. Redress may be sought under the Trade Marks Act, 1999, the Copyright Act, 1957 and the Emblems and Names Act, 1950 and the common law notion of passing off. The Copyright Act, 1957, will not protect Vodafone in this case. Neither, the Emblems and Names (Prevention of improper use) Act, 1950. Nor does the Trademark Act of 1999.

“Vodafone or the IPL authorities, if they desire, only seek remedy under the common law,” says advocate Sanjeev Kumar, managing partner of Juris KPS Law offices. “In common law there is a general understanding that where there is a right there is a remedy. The organizers sell the advertisement and the manner in which advertisement can be exploited. Stands meant for general spectators is not the place where the organizers would contemplate advertising. Any brand formation at such a place which can identify a specific brand will amount to an advertisement for which rights have not been acquired. Hence, in this case the organisers are eligible for a recovery / compensation suit,” adds Mr Kumar, who specialises in trademark, IP and patent laws.

Over the years, the nature and role of sports sponsorship has changed dramatically from altruistic patronage to calculated spend money, the expectation of concrete measurable ‘return’ on “investment” have become of paramount concern, the laws provided under trademark, copyright infringement, passing off or unfair competition can only be a stop gap arrangement and not a permanent solution.

If we look at the examples of countries which have organized major events, Australia (Olympic 2000), China (Olympic 2008), Canada (Winter Olympic 2010), and U.K (Olympic 2012) all of them either have passed event–specific legislation or amended existing laws to contemplate protection of the official sponsors of their major sporting events.

Stakes in Indian cricket are no lesser. If the sport can be run and governed by the Supreme Court appointed committee, it’s high time the authorities also enact laws to protect the rights of the sponsors. The time has come to implement a legislation which protects the rights of the official sponsors and also infringement of the intellectual property rights.