It’s a unique brand war. For nine years, Karnataka and Kerala have been battling to secure the trademark, “KSRTC”, for their respective state-owned public transport corporations. Earlier this week, Kerala announced that the Trademarks Registry has ruled in its favour. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation may now need a new acronym and perhaps, a new logo.
In 2012, Karnataka had registered KSRTC as its exclusive trademark with the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks and asked Kerala to refrain from sporting it on its buses. Kerala contested the claim and the case reached the Trade Marks Registry in Chennai in 2014. Over seven years, both state governments marshalled evidence to fortify their claims, which had by then been tinged with Malayali and Kannada sub-nationalisms. The evidence that seems to have clinched the issue in Kerala’s favour was a 1969 Malayalam film, Kannur Deluxe, which had visuals that established that KSRTC was the trademark of the Kerala SRTC in the 1960s. Named after a popular express bus service that plied between Kannur in northern Kerala and the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, much of this road movie featuring the popular star jodi, Prem Nazir and Sheela, was shot inside the KSRTC-operated bus. It had visuals that showcased the KSRTC logo — two elephants with raised trunks. Kerala claimed its RTC was set up in 1965 whereas the Mysore Government Road Transport Department was renamed KSRTC in 1974.
Like all trademark battles, this too has been driven by commercial interests. Both the KSRTCs have tremendous brand recall and consumer loyalty. However, if a strong brand is not merely the logo and trademark, and it is the product that matters, the Karnataka RTC, arguably one of the finest public transport services in the country, is on safe ground.