By Lucy Rana and Meril Mathew Joy
The COVID-19 pandemic has made all business operations, both Private and Government, more complicated and uncertain amidst lockdown in India. For past few months, the country has issued serious measures by declaring a strict country-wide lockdown. In this regard, the Hon’ble Supreme Court while taking suo moto cognizance of the situation has passed an order dated March 23, 2020 and operative portion of the order reads as under:
“To obviate such difficulties and to ensure that lawyers/litigants do not have to come physically to file such proceedings in respective Courts/Tribunals across the country including this Court, it is hereby ordered that a period of limitation in all such proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the general law or Special Laws whether condonable or not shall stand extended w.e.f. 15th March 2020 till further order/s to be passed by this Court in present proceedings.
We are exercising this power under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India and declare that this order is a binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all Courts/Tribunals and authorities.
This order may be brought to the notice of all High Courts for being communicated to all subordinate Courts/Tribunals within their respective jurisdiction. Issue notice to all the Registrars General of the High Courts, returnable in four weeks.”
Thereafter, 08 separate Interlocutory Applications, were filed by various parties before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the above writ petition. Vide order dated May 06, 2020 in IA No.48411/2020, seeking appropriate directions in relation to Section 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, the Hon’ble Supreme Court took note of its earlier order dated March 23, 2020 and accordingly ordered that “all periods of limitation prescribed under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act 1881 shall be extended with effect from 15.03.2020 till further orders to be passed by this Court in the present proceedings. In case the limitation has expired after 15.03.2020 then the period from 15.03.2020 till the date on which the lockdown is lifted in the jurisdictional area where the dispute lies or where the cause of action arises shall be extended for a period of 15 days after the lifting of lockdown.” The Court was also pleased to issue notice in the remaining applications, which may be listed before the Hon’ble Court in due course.
Public Notice by CGPDTM
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, vide order dated March 24, 2020, announced lockdown 1.0 for 21 days. Pursuant thereto, the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks (CGPDTM) issued a Public Notice dated March 25, 2020 informing that the due dates of times-lines/periods prescribed under different IP Acts and Rules administered by the O/o CGPDTM with respect to completion of various acts/activities, filing of any reply/document, payment of fees, etc. regarding any IP applications filed with the offices under the administrative control of the O/o CGPDTM shall be the date on which the offices will re-open. Pursuant to the order dated April 14, 2020, passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the CGPDTM issued Public Notice dated April 15, 2020 extending the deadlines for all filings and compliances to May 03, 2020.
Thereafter, Government extended lockdown w.e.f. May 04, 2020 till May 17, 2020. Subsequently, the CGPDTM, issued a Public Notice dated May 04, 2020 (in reference to its Notice dated March 25, 2020 and April 14, 2020) extending the timeline/ period for completion of various acts/proceedings, filing of any reply/document, payment of fees, etc. in the matters under the administrative control of O/o CGPDTM, till May 18, 2020.
Petition by IPAA against CGPDTM’s Public Notice
A Writ Petition was filed by the Intellectual Property Attorneys Association against Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks  before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court.
During the course of hearing, the Petitioner contended that the above mentioned Public Notice dated May 04, 2020 issued by the CGPDTM, extending the limitation period up to May 18, 2020, i.e. one day after the lockdown is lifted, is contrary to the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated March 23, 2020 in the above mentioned suo moto writ petition. The writ Petitioner also contended that the Public Notice triggering the limitation exemption from March 25, 2020 is contrary to the order dated March 23, 2020 passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein, the Apex Court directed the extension of limitation period to start w.e.f. March 15, 2020, in all legal proceedings.
On May 11, 2020 after hearing both the parties, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court was pleased to pass the following order:
- No authority or tribunal can act contrary to order dated March 23, 2020 by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, which has been passed in exercise of powers of the Apex Court under Article 141 and 142 of the Constitution of India. Further, Article 144 of the Constitution of India mandates that all authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.
- Protection against the extension of limitation period under the general law of limitation or under Special Laws (both Central and/or State) must commence from March 15, 2020 and not from March 25, 2020 as indicated from the Public Notice dated May 04, 2020.
- Since the Public Notice dated May 04, 2020 is contrary to the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in in the above mentioned suo moto writ petition, therefore the Hon’ble High Court suspended the operation of the Public Notice dated May 04, 2020 and disposed of the writ petition with consent of parties.
- Copy of the public notice dated May 04, 2020 was not filed along with the Writ Petition and therefore a direction was issued to place the same on record.
- Further, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court also directed the respondents to act in accordance with the order dated March 23, 2020 passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in suo moto cognizance writ petition In Re: Cognizance For Extension Of Limitation (Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020).
Public Notice dated May 18, 2020
On May 17, 2020, the Central Government extended the lockdown from May 18, 2020 to May 31, 2020. In view of this, the order dated March 23, 2020 passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court will continue to be in operation and all the Courts, tribunal and authority are bound to act in accordance with above order under Article 141 and 142 of the Constitution of India.
However, again a Public Notice dated May 18, 2020, has been issued by the Office of CGDPTM, the relevant extract thereof is reproduced herein below:
“In view of above, the due dates, with respect to the timelines/periods prescribed under the IP Acts and Rules administered by O/o CGPDTM towards completion of various acts/proceedings, filing of any reply/document, payment of fees, etc. in the matters of any IP applications filed with the offices under the administrative control of O/o CGPDTM, falling due from 15-03-2020 to 17-05-2020, shall be 01-06-2020.”
There appears to be an anomaly in the Public Notice dated May 18, 2020 issued by the CGPDTM as pursuant to the said notice all the deadlines falling between March 15, 2020 to May 17, 2020 will be till June 1, 2020 and the deadlines falling between May 18, 2020 to May 31, 2020 will be the respective dates. Therefore, a clarification needs to be sought from the CGPDTM.
 In Re : Cognizance For Extension Of Limitation, Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020, order dated March 23, 2020.
 IA No.48411/2020 – APPROPRIATE ORDERS/ DIRECTIONS IA No.48375/2020 – CLARIFICATION/ DIRECTION; IA No.48511/2020 – CLARIFICATION/ DIRECTION; IA No.48461/2020 – CLARIFICATION/ DIRECTION; IA No.48374/2020 – INTERVENTION APPLICATION; IA No.48416/2020 – INTERVENTION APPLICATION; IA No.48408/2020 – INTERVENTION APPLICATION
 W.P.(C) No.3059/2020