Recently, The Delhi High Court has been approached to decide who “invented” butter chicken and dal makhani. The High Court is adjudicating a dispute between Moti Mahal and Daryaganj, two Delhi-based restaurant chains.
The facts of case which is set to be adjudicated by the Delhi High Court is that Moti Mahal has long claimed that its late founder, Kundal Lal Gujral (1902-97), invented butter chicken and dal makhani, bringing the dishes to India from Peshawar’s Moti Mahal restaurant after Partition. However, Daryaganj, of Shark Tank India fame had also started advertising itself as the “inventor” of both dishes. Its proprietors claimed that it was their forefather, Kundan Lal Jaggi (1924-2018), who invented both dishes instead.
Ankur Sangal, Partner, Khaitan & Co., “It is an interesting issue. The court will decide whether the Daryaganj restaurant, through its predecessors, was the founder of the first Moti Mahal restaurant in Peshawar. Moti Mahal restaurant claims that Daryaganj has been unauthorisedly using the photographs and claiming to be the founder of the Moti Mahal restaurant (Inventors of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani).
He adds that, “In order to claim association with the first restaurant, Daryaganj will have to establish through documentary proof that their predecessor were the founders of Moti Mahal.”
Consequently, Moti Mahal has filed a legal suit at the Delhi High Court, claiming that Daryaganj was passing off Moti Mahal’s invention as its own. In the suit, it has been alleged that restaurant owners “misrepresented” to the general public by claiming that their predecessor Late Kundan Lal Jaggi invented Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani dishes as they falsely used the tagline “Inventors of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani”.
Subhash Bhutoria, Founder & Principal at LAW SB, said that, “The decision of the Court in this dispute would largely depend upon the aspect of joint proprietary (or not) of the two Kundan Lals (Mr. Kundan Lal Gujral of the Plaintiffs and Mr. Kundan Lal Jaggi of the Defendants). It is an admitted fact that both these predecessors of the parties at dispute, were founders and partners of the original Moti Mahal and had entered into a partnership arrangement in the 1950s”
He adds that, “The issue of whether the Defendants are misrepresenting themselves as the “inventor of butter chicken and dal makhani” would depend upon a thorough examination of this partnership arrangement (and its dissolution, if any). This can also give rise to a critical issue of possible misappropriation of partnership property by the Plaintiffs and their predecessor in case the Plaintiffs have transferred / assigned the ownership of ‘Moti Mahal’ brand from the original partnership without taking consent from the Defendants’ predecessor.”
While expecting that, “The issue, as it seems to me, is beyond a dispute relating to food recipes and can certainly set a precedent in terms of right to attribution under the trademark laws (passing off).”
The plaintiffs have contended the famous trademark “Moti Mahal” and related formative marks, used in relation to restaurants operating nationally and internationally since 1920. They further contended that the defendants (Daryaganj restaurant) are misleading the public into believing that their “Daryaganj” restaurants are connected with the plaintiffs’ predecessor’s first “Moti Mahal” restaurant in Daryaganj. This misleading representation the defendants’ use of a picture of the plaintiffs’ predecessor, Kundan Lal Gujral, on their Facebook page, misrepresenting it as that of the defendants’ predecessor, (late) Kundan Lal Jaggi”.
Shashank Agarwal, Advocate, Delhi High Court said that, “In deciding an intellectual property, the court would normally go back to the roots, origins, drafts, workings, rough notes, etc. which would show the knowledge and effort put in by the creator while creating what it claims it has.”
He adds that, “In the present case, it is perhaps the case of experimental invention, however, the claim’s veracity would depend upon the availability of the documentary proofs evidencing first ever preparation and existence of butter chicken.”
The defendants have contended the suit to be misconceived, baseless and lacking a cause of action. They further submitted that the defendants have not engaged in any false representation or claim, and the allegations made in the suit are far from the truth.
Alay Razvi, Partner, Accord Juris LLP, Hyderabad says, “The burden of proof will heavily lie upon Moti Mahal to establish if they have been the inventors or prior users of Butter chicken , which dates back to 1939 and subsequently it would be upon Daryaganj to defend its case. In this particular case, the trial will be crucial and documentary evidence will play a very important role for Moti Mahal as well as Daryaganj.”
While adding that, “Though the origin being claimed is almost similar but distinct , the court will have to go into the merits of the case. We only have to wait for Daryaganj to file their Reply and documentary Evidence to understand their side of the story.”
The bench of justice Sanjeev Narula recently issued summons to the Daryaganj restaurant owner and other defendants and listed the matter before joint registrar on March 18, 2024.