IPR and Civil Aviation: An Analysis

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Civil aviation refers to the operation of aircraft for non-military purposes, such as commercial air travel, cargo transportation, and private aviation. It encompasses a wide range of activities related to the use of aircraft for civilian purposes, including aircraft design and manufacture, airline operations, air traffic control, airport management, and aviation safety and security. Civil aviation plays a critical role in global transportation and commerce, connecting people and goods across the world and contributing significantly to economic growth and development.

Civil aviation is one of the most important and rapidly growing industries in India. With the increasing number of flights and passengers, the aviation sector has become an important contributor to the Indian economy. However, this growth has also brought with it several challenges, one of which is the protection of intellectual property rights. The protection of intellectual property rights is crucial for the growth and development of the civil aviation industry in India. In this research paper, we will study the role of intellectual property rights in the Indian civil aviation sector and analyze the challenges faced by the industry in protecting these rights.

In the modern world, intellectual property rights (IPR) play a significant role in the civil aviation sector. Unique and inventive innovations, creations, and designs are given legal protection by IPR, and this protection promotes innovation and industry growth. Being a technologically advanced sector, civil aviation heavily depends on advancements in a variety of fields, including aircraft design, engines, avionics, and navigation systems.

Intellectual property rights: Intellectual property (IP) pertains to any original creation of the human intellect such as artistic, literary, technical, or scientific creation. Intellectual property rights (IPR) refer to the legal rights given to the inventor or creator to protect his invention or creation for a certain period.[1] These legal rights confer an exclusive right to the inventor/creator or his assignee to fully utilize and enjoy his invention/creation for a given period without any disruption. Different types of intellectual rights in India are the copyrights act, 1957; the trademarks act, 1999; the patents act, 1970 etc.

Intellectual Property Rights in Civil Aviation

Intellectual property rights are the legal rights granted to creators and owners of creative works, such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. In the civil aviation sector, intellectual property rights play an important role in protecting the interests of airlines, manufacturers, and other stakeholders. For example, airlines use trademarks to protect their brand identity, while manufacturers use patents to protect their technological innovations.

With TATA Air services, aviation had its start in India in the year 1932. the name AIR INDIA was given to it after independence. With more than 90 foreign airlines operating in the country, it has grown to be the third-largest air passenger market. The business community has understood the value of trademarks from the start. Air India developed the “Maharaja” mascot, which is regarded as the most recognized mascot on the globe, back in 1946.

Civil aviation in India has undergone significant growth and development over the past few decades. India is currently the third-largest domestic aviation market in the world, with a rapidly expanding aviation sector. The growth of the Indian aviation industry can be attributed to a number of factors, including increased domestic and international tourism, rising incomes, and the liberalization of the Indian economy in the 1990s.

Intellectual property rights are legal protections for works of art, inventions, and other products of the human mind. IPR’s main goal is to promote innovation and creativity by giving exclusive rights to the people who created or control these works, allowing them to profit from their labour and investment.

The protection of aircraft designs and manufacturing processes is one of the primary areas where IPR contributes significantly to civil aviation. The development of fresh, cutting-edge designs that can be shielded by patents, trademarks, and copyrights requires significant research and development investment on the part of aircraft manufacturers. These safeguards give producers the ability to stop rivals from stealing their ideas or utilizing their technology without authorization, which is crucial for preserving a competitive edge.

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Protection of the software and digital technologies employed in the sector is a significant area where IPR is crucial to civil aviation. In order to increase productivity and safety, the aviation sector is depending more and more on digital technologies including avionics, flight management systems, and air traffic control systems. Software and algorithms employed in these technologies are protected by intellectual property laws, which can help stop their unauthorized use and distribution.

IPR is crucial for safeguarding the Intellectual property of the airlines, aircraft manufacturers and other relevant sectors in the context of civil aviation. Some of the pertinent IPR clauses that pertain to the civil aviation industry include the following:

  1. Patents: it is a type of IPR that safeguards inventions. Patents are essential for defending aircraft designs, parts, and systems in the aviation industry. For instance, designers of aircraft engines, wings and other vital parts may be eligible for patent protection. As with new in-flight entertainment systems or seat designs, airlines are also permitted to patent their improvements in terms of customer experience, comfort and safety. The issuance and defence of patents in India are governed by Patents Act,1970. The act calls for the grant of exclusive rights to the patentee in order to bar unauthorized production, use, sale or import of patented information.
  2. Trademarks: these are symbols or names that are used to identify and set one company’s products or services apart from those of another. Trademarks are used in the aviation industry to safeguard the names and emblems of aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and other connected businesses. For instance, an airline’s logo can be copyrighted to stop rival airlines from adopting it in a way that could confuse customers. The trademark registration and protection are governed by the Trademarks Act,1999. The act makes it possible to register trademarks associated with aviation, aircraft and other connected fields.
  3. Copyright: the protection of original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, and musical works, as provided by copyrights. The protection of instructional materials, technical manuals and other types of documents that are essential to the safe and effective operation of aircraft falls under the purview of copyrights in the aviation industry. Original literary, artistic, musical, and other creative works in India are protected by the Copyright Act, 1957.
  4. Trade secrets: confidential information that gives a business a competitive edge is referred to as a trade secret. Trade secrets in the aviation industry include the hidden knowledge about aircraft designs, production techniques, and other technical data that offers a business a competitive edge. The Indian Contract Act, 1872, which guarantees the confidentiality of information through contracts and agreements between parties, includes provisions for protecting trade secrets.

Relevant case laws:

In TATA SIA Airlines Limited V. Pilot18 Aviation Book Store[2]

Issue –Whether the Pilot18 Aviation Studies portal which operates the web portal www.pilot18.com can sell unauthorized products under the VISTARA brand?

Judgment – It was discovered that Pilot18 was using the Vistara trademark to sell items such as name tags, badges, and other accessories. This was determined to be a serious threat to airport security since the counterfeit versions of these accessories could be used by unauthorized individuals, in addition to being a trademark violation. As a result, the court ordered the portal to stop selling such items under the Vistara brand. The court further ordered pilot18 to pay Rs. 2 lakhs in costs to Vistara Airlines operator within a month.

In 2015, a trademark dispute arose between IndiGo and Tata Motors over the name of the company, which sells its premium sedans under the same moniker. Tata Motors has asserted that the use of the airline’s usage of the indigo brand constitutes an infringement of its trademark, putting Interglobe Aviation, the airline’s parent company in danger regarding the ownership title. The Indigo brand was introduced by India’s largest automaker in 2002 and Interglobe began operating in August 2006. Here it was held that trademark ownership is only valid per category, which is the pretext used by the majority of the imitators. Thus, this means that if a new company wishes to use your name in a completely unrelated area for which you are not registered, it is not trademark infringement.

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Frankfinn Aviation Services … vs Tata Sia Airlines Ltd. on 28 October 2022[3]

The plaintiff, in this case, is the original adopter, user, and registered proprietor of the trademark “fly high”, which was created and adopted in the year 2004 and has been continuously, extensively, and regularly used for imparting training in hospitality, aviation, travel management, and customer services, with the largest network of cutting-edge centres across India as well as Dubai.

The plaintiff asserts that it is a pioneer in its industry, a prestigious institution known for its professionalism and services and that it is listed in the Limca Book of Records. Plaintiff has received numerous honours, awards, and recognitions including the title of ‘Best training institute” for the past 10 years, from 2011 to 2020.

When the plaintiff learned that the defendant, who runs its full-service airline under the trademark, was advertising or promoting its services under the mark “fly higher” on numerous internet platforms and social media websites, the plaintiff filed a petition in court. In a nutshell, the plaintiff complains that the defendant duplicated the plaintiff’s registered trademark, “fly high”, in a brazen and obvious way and is utilizing it for related services. Confusion among the general public is unavoidable because the defendant also uses the trademark phrase “fly higher” as a hashtag on its website and because the services of the parties to the list are in the same industry, namely Aviation.

The plaintiff and defendant both work in a fundamentally different industries, namely the airline business and educational instruction, respectively. The phrase” fly higher” is used in an advertising and promotional campaign by the defendant to describe the full-service airline it operates under its trademark. Contrary to what the plaintiff claims, the defendant does not use the slogan “fly higher” as a trademark. The defendant uses “fly high” as a description in combination with its well-known trademark and only to market and promote its scheduled airline service. Under the aforementioned statement, no products or services are offered or sold.  The way the phrase is used in the advertisements and other materials makes it abundantly clear that it is not serving as a source identifier and is not capable of distinguishing the defendant’s services from those of its rivals, which is the purpose of a “trademark” as defined by section 2(1)(zb) of the trademarks act, 1999.

In any case, the phrase “fly high” is laudatory, a dictionary term that denotes “the level up”, “ambition” or the “pursuit of higher success”. The expression “fly high” and variations like “fly higher” and “high fly”, among others, are frequently used to describe the success of players in the airline industry. As a result, many airlines, including Air India, Emirates, Philippine Airlines, Indigo, etc have used and continued to use the phrase “fly high or a variation of it in their own social media posts, ad campaigns, and frequent flyer programs. It cannot be said that the use of the phrase” fly higher” in conjunction with plaintiff’s trademark,” fly high”, infringes on the mark, which the plaintiff cannot even otherwise monopolize.

Since the nature of the services provided by the parties differs, the defendant has not and does not utilize the phrase as a trademark, and since there is no probability of confusion or association, the claim of infringement under sec. 29 of the Act cannot be upheld. The defendant does not appear to be using the phrase “fly higher” in a way that is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive members of the public. The prominent use of the recognizable brand alongside the term “fly higher” further refutes any intention of the defendant to deceive, which runs counter to the plaintiff’s position.

In the case of Sahara Airlines LTD. Vs. Jet Airways (India) LTD[4]., both airlines were at odds over the use of the “jet” trademark in connection with aviation services.  Sahara Airlines was accused of violating the trademark rights of jet airways by using the word “jet” in its promotional materials. The Delhi High Court decided in favor of jet airways, finding that Sahara Airlines’ use of the word “jet” was likely to confuse customers and a violation of jet airways’ trademark rights.

Challenges in Protecting Intellectual Property Rights

Despite the importance of intellectual property rights in the civil aviation sector, the industry faces several challenges in protecting these rights. Some of these challenges are:

  • Lack of awareness: There is a lack of awareness among stakeholders in the civil aviation sector about the importance of intellectual property rights and the need to protect these rights.
  • Limited enforcement mechanisms: The enforcement mechanisms for intellectual property rights in India are limited, and the process of enforcing these rights can be lengthy and costly.
  • Infringement of patents and trademarks: The increasing number of flights and passengers in India has led to an increase in the infringement of patents and trademarks in the civil aviation sector.
  • Unauthorized use of technology: The unauthorized use of technology, such as in-flight entertainment systems and navigation systems, is a common problem in the Indian civil aviation sector.
  • Counterfeit goods: The sale of counterfeit goods, such as spare parts and uniforms, is a major problem in the Indian civil aviation sector and a threat to the intellectual property rights of the industry.

To address the challenges faced by the civil aviation sector in protecting intellectual property rights, the following measures can be taken:

  1. Awareness campaigns: Awareness campaigns can be conducted to educate stakeholders in the civil aviation sector about the importance of intellectual property rights and the need to protect these rights.
  2. Strengthening enforcement mechanisms: The enforcement mechanisms for intellectual property rights in India can be strengthened to provide a more effective and efficient way to enforce these rights.
  3. Cooperation with international organizations: Cooperation with international organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, can be established to promote the protection of intellectual property rights in the Indian civil aviation sector.
  4. Collaboration with other industries: Collaboration with other industries, such as the technology and entertainment industries, can be established to promote the protection of intellectual property rights in the civil aviation sector.
  5. Implementation of technological solutions: Technological solutions, such as digital watermarking and encryption, can be implemented to protect the intellectual property rights of the civil aviation sector.


In conclusion, the protection of intellectual property rights is crucial for the growth and development of the civil aviation industry in India. The industry faces several challenges in protecting these rights, including a lack of awareness, limited enforcement mechanisms, and infringement of patents and trademarks. To address these challenges, the industry can take measures such as conducting awareness campaigns, strengthening enforcement mechanisms, and implementing technological solutions. By protecting its intellectual property rights, the Indian civil aviation sector can ensure its continued growth and success in the global marketplace.

This article is authored by Prashita Mamodia, student at Thakur Ramnarayan College of Law, Mumbai.

[1] Singh R. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd; 2004. Law relating to intellectual property (A complete comprehensive material on intellectual property covering acts, rules, conventions, treaties, agreements, case-Law and much more) [Google Scholar]

[2] TATA SIA Airlines Limited V. Pilot18 Aviation Book Store, CS (Comm). No. 156 of 2019

[3]Frankfinn Aviation Services … vs Tata Sia Airlines Ltd. on 28 October, 2022 2022/DHC/004489

[4]  Sahara Airlines LTD. Vs. Jet airways (India) LTD app345.456.2011

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