Quick Response Codes (QR Codes) and Barcodes use the underlying technology s QR codes. A type of matrix barcode, QR codes refer to the two-dimensional (2D) representations of an array of black and white square blocks organized in unique patterns that store the data or information. Every unique pattern has some data or information encoded in it. QR codes can be scanned using mobile phone cameras, which generally have built-in QR code readers. The data or information encoded can be accessed or decoded by scanning the QR code, which transfers the data or information to the device used to scan the QR code. Industries, including entertainment, education, banking, and print media, have been widely using barcodes and QR codes.

Barcodes and QR codes are capable of identifying the products and/or services of an entity in the market and are widely used to do so. They offer a user-friendly method of determining the authenticity of products and making information accessible to the end customers. Therefore, it would be wise enough to mention that barcodes and QR codes make end customers less vulnerable to purchasing counterfeit products.

Kindly note that any misappropriation or unauthorized use of barcodes and QR codes involves the risk of confusing the general public and members of trade concerning the origin or source of products and/or services. The same leads to dilution and loss of reputation and goodwill to the manufacturer and his brand name. Additionally, unauthorized use of barcodes and QR codes can be detrimental to the general public’s interest, who may buy infringing or counterfeit products due to the confusion created.

India – Lawsuits Revolving Around IPRs in QR Codes & Barcodes

The courts in India protect barcodes and QR codes under the Trademark Law.

  1. Needle Industries (India) Pvt. Ltd v. Mr. Sushil Jain & Anr – The plaintiff in this lawsuit was engaged in manufacturing haberdashery material, such as knitting pins, hand sewing needles, and other products like zip locks, snap fasteners, crochet hooks, etc. The plaintiff had sought an order of injunction from the Delhi High Court against the defendant’s unauthorized use of its barcode on snap fasteners. The plaintiff asserted that the defendant’s activities were causing deception in the marketplace and infringing upon its exclusive rights coming from the license given to the plaintiff by GS1. GS1 is a not-for-profit international certification authority maintaining a global database and standards concerning barcodes’ use. Furthermore, the plaintiff submitted that the said infringement caused it loss of business and diminished the GS1 system’s integrity apart from products sold of lower quality than those of the plaintiff. After considering all the facts of the lawsuit, the Court granted an order of interim injunction corresponding to restraining the defendant from using the barcode of the plaintiff. The order of injunction in question was confirmed at a later stage. The lawsuit was decreed based on the defendant’s statement that he would not use the plaintiff’s barcodes in the future.
  2. GS1 India v. Global Barcodes SL & Ors – The plaintiff, in this case, was a license holder of GS1. He was engaged in the business of certification. He had sought an injunction from the Delhi High Court against the allocation of barcodes starting with ‘890’ by the defendant to third parties. Such a barcode was already allocated to the plaintiff by GS1. The plaintiff also had a Trademark Registration certificate for the barcode with a pictorial design and ‘890’ therein in class 35 concerning certification services. The Court ruled that the defendant’s activities violated the plaintiff’s Trademark Rights and infringed upon his common rights, causing deception among the customers and the general public. The Court further stated that because of the misappropriation of the plaintiff’s barcode, innocent customers believed that the barcodes assigned by the defendant belonged to the plaintiff and were compliant with the GS1 standards. Therefore, the Court granted an order of interim injunction corresponding to restraining the defendant from using the barcodes starting with ‘890’.

Under the Indian Trademarks Act of 1999, trademark registration of QR codes and barcodes raises several questions concerning public policy, customary use, and distinctiveness, which may be arduous to overcome. However, it doesn’t imply that barcodes and QR codes can’t obtain Trademark Protection in India