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In 34 page order, Calcutta HC rejects Rajat Agarwal's trademark protection plea, allows Amin Rozani faction to continue operating 'The Spartan Poker'

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The ugly and public spat between the two factions of Spartan Poker has been partially resolved. A single judge bench of the Calcutta High Court passed a detailed order on 12th May, 2017 in relation to the civil suit filed by Pokerguru founder Rajat Agarwal against Spartan Online Poker Pvt. Ltd. (the company that operates The Spartan Poker), Amin Rozani and others.

The court in its order ruled that Spartan Online Pvt. Ltd. and the Amin Rozani-led group cannot be asked to refrain from using the domain name thespartanpoker.com or the brand ‘Spartan Poker’, paving way for The Spartan Poker to continue its operations.

The order of the High Court is now available in the public domain. A comprehensive analysis of the ruling of the court in relation to whether domain names can be treated as trademarks can be viewed on Spicy IP.

Justice Soumen Sen in his judgment has recorded in detail the controversy surrounding the alleged partnership/joint venture between Rajat Agarwal and his family on one hand and Amin Rozani, Rajeev Kanjani, Peter Abraham and Sameer Rattonsey on the other.

Justice Sen has noted the existence of a Memorandum of Understanding and emails between the two factions, which has created a quasi-partnership arrangement and profits were shared by the two factions. The court also refers to the fact that Agarwal had contributed some amount for issue of share capital, but the same has been denied by Quadrific Media Pvt. Ltd., the company that originally operated Spartan Poker.

Further, it has been noted that while Agarwal did not officially hold shares in Quadrific Media, he was given a share of the profits and remuneration as director of the company.

The genesis of the dispute however is the defalcation and misappropriation of funds by Rohit Bhalla, criminal action taken against Bhalla by the company and Agarwal’s reluctance in taking a stand against Bhalla’s alleged action.

The Court observed that it is now well settled in India that domain names are to be protected along the same lines as trademarks, citing previous judgments. The court however noted that  the domain name ‘www.spartanpoker.com’ was not identified with Rajat Agarwal, Plaintiff No.1. Further, the court observed that not only had the Quadrific applied for the registration of ‘Spartan’ prior to Agarwal but Agarwal had incurred no substantial expenditure apart from the registration of the domain name.

Agarwal or the other plaintiffs did not spend on developing the web page, trade dress and designing of the mark and related expenses for its registration, the court noted. The court held that the application for Spartan Poker trademark has been objected by Agarwal before the trademark registry, and he may be able to claim damages from Spartan Online only if he succeeds in registering the trademark.

The court also observed that Agarwal cannot taken the argument that Rozani and others had broken the non-compete clause in the Memorandum of Understanding and emails as he allegedly breached a clause of the agreement by announcing on Spartan Poker page (which he owned) on 4th December, 2016 that he was starting a new poker website.

The court has however stated that due to the existence of a quasi-partnership arrangement between the two groups, Agarwal may be able to claim a share in the profits until 4th December, 2016, the day he claimed he was launching a separate poker website.

The court has further asked both Quadrific Media and Spartan Online to furnish monthly statements of transactions that have taken place till date as well as further monthly statements of the transactions that will take place. The court will further hear the issue of whether Agarwal can claim a share in the profits of Quadrific Media in July, 2017.

Jay has researched extensively on gaming laws and has been cited by various media houses and journals as an expert. He has helped leading newspapers in their stories on gaming laws. Jay completed his B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from NUJS, Kolkata in 2015 and is currently based out of Mumbai.