Hindustan Unilever wins patent battle against Tata Chemicals Limited

Indian Patent Office in a protracted patent battle between Hindustan Unilever Limited and Tata Chemicals Limited has given a decision in favor of Hindustan Unilever Limited. The Assistant Controller of Patents and Designs had refused the patent application, related to the water purifier, filed by Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services on July 8, 2008. The Assistant Controller of Patents and Designs refused the patent application based on a pre-grant opposition filed by Hindustan Unilever Limited which raised objections of the invention being obvious to a person skilled in the art.

According to market research, India’s market of water purifier was estimated to be at $391.4 million in 2019, and the Indian market is expected to expand at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13% to outreach $818 million by 2024. Furthermore, according to allied market research, the global market size of water purifiers was valued at $31,013 million in 2018. The global water purifier market is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 9% from 2018 to 2025 to outreach $58,322 million by 2025. Thus, global business houses see a significant market potential of water purifiers due to increasing water pollution, and water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, and cancer.

Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services claimed a patent for a water purifying device comprising a purification chamber that has an upper chamber and a lower chamber, such that the lower chamber has a nozzle for the outflow of water. The purification chamber is coupled with a water storage vessel, and the purification chamber is configured with a water filter such that water present in the water storage vessel is purified by a water filter of the purification chamber. The applicant claimed that the water purifying device is designed such that the water filter receives a uniform flow of water, and the nozzle regulates the outflow of purified water from the water purifying device. The applicant described that the device could sustain uneven forces and pressures applied to the water filter of the purification chamber. Another advantage described by the applicant is that the water purifying device due to its cost-effectiveness can be used in villages for various purposes, and the device could be fixed on any vessel or even pot. Moreover, the applicant also mentioned various awards, including the “design of the decade” award earned by the water purifying device.

Hindustan Unilever Limited filed a pre-grant opposition against Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services on January 13, 2011stating that all features of the invention were present in prior arts and therefore invention lacks an inventive step. Hindustan Unilever Limited also objected that merely claiming aesthetic changes in the nozzle for the outflow of water over the prior arts cannot bring any novelty to the water purifying device.

In response to objections raised by Hindustan Unilever Limited, Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services argued that the claimed water purifying device comprises all necessary features including a nozzle for the outflow of water which has not been claimed in any of the cited prior arts.

The Assistant Controller of Patents and Designs, in an order dated January 2, 2020, is of the view that the arguments made by the applicant (Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services) regarding objections of lack of inventive steps are not sufficient. The Assistant Controller further stated that the water purifying device invention is novel but lacks an inventive step, and is obvious to the person skilled in the art. So, the Assistant Controller of Patents and Design accepted pre-grant opposition by Hindustan Unilever Limited and refused the grant of a patent application filed by Tata Chemicals Limited along with Tata Consultancy Services.

Author: Manik Mittal, Patent Associate, at IP and Legal Filings and can be reached at support@ipandlegalfilings.com.

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