Shangri-La International v. CA (Case Digest. G.R. No. 111580)



G.R. No. 114802. June 21, 2001 DEVELOPERS GROUP OF COMPANIES, INC., petitioner, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS, HON. IGNACIO S. SAPALO, in his capacity as Director, Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer, and SHANGRI-LA INTERNATIONAL HOTEL MANAGEMENT, LTD., respondents. YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

FACTS: On June 21, 1988, the "Shangri-La Group" filed with the Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer (BPTTT) a petition, docketed as Inter Partes Case No. 3145, praying for the cancellation of the registration of the "Shangri-La" mark and "S" device/logo issued to the Developers Group of Companies, Inc., on the ground that the same was illegally and fraudulently obtained and appropriated for the latter's restaurant business. The Shangri-La Group alleged that it is the legal and beneficial owners of the subject mark and logo; that it has been using the said mark and logo for its corporate affairs and business since March 1962 and caused the same to be specially designed for their international hotels in 1975, much earlier than the alleged first use thereof by the Developers Group in 1982.

Likewise, the Shangri-La Group filed with the BPTTT its own application for registration of the subject mark and logo. The Developers Group filed an opposition to the application, which was docketed as Inter Partes Case No. 3529.

Almost three (3) years later, or on April 15, 1991, the Developers Group instituted with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 99, a complaint for infringement and damages with prayer for injunction, docketed as Civil Case No. Q-91-8476, against the Shangri-La Group.

On January 8, 1992, the Shangri-La Group moved for the suspension of the proceedings in the infringement case on account of the pendency of the administrative proceedings before the BPTTT. Denied. Motions to inhibit and to reconsider, also denied.

The Shangri-La Group filed for certiorari with the CA. Denied. Motion for reconsideration, also denied.

Meanwhile, on October 28, 1991, the Developers Group filed in Inter Partes Case No. 3145 an Urgent Motion to Suspend Proceedings, invoking the pendency of the infringement case it filed before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. On January 10, 1992, the BPTTT, through Director Ignacio S. Sapalo, issued an Order denying the Motion. Motion for reconsideration, denied.

From the denial by the BPTTT of its Urgent Motion to Suspend Proceedings and Motion for Reconsideration, the Developers Group filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari, mandamus and prohibition, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 27742.13 On March 29, 1994, the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

ISSUE: The core issue is simply whether, despite the institution of an Inter Partes case for cancellation of a mark with the BPTTT (now the Bureau of Legal Affairs, Intellectual Property Office or BLA-IPO) by one party, the adverse party can file a subsequent action for infringement with the regular courts of justice in connection with the same registered mark.

HELD: The Supreme Court rule in the affirmative. The Court ordered the BLA-IPO to suspend proceedings and to await for the outcome of the civil case.

Section 151.2 of Republic Act No. 8293, otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Code, provides, as follows: "Section 151.2. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, the court or the administrative agency vested with jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate any action to enforce the rights to a registered mark shall likewise exercise jurisdiction to determine whether the registration of said mark may be cancelled in accordance with this Act. The filing of a suit to enforce the registered mark with the proper court or agency shall exclude any other court or agency from assuming jurisdiction over a subsequently filed petition to cancel the same mark. On the other hand, the earlier filing of petition to cancel the mark with the Bureau of Legal Affairs shall not constitute a prejudicial question that must be resolved before an action to enforce the rights to same registered mark may be decided.

Hence, as applied in the case at bar, the earlier institution of an Inter Partes case by the Shangri-La Group for the cancellation of the "Shangri-La" mark and "S" device/logo with the BPTTT cannot effectively bar the subsequent filing of an infringement case by registrant Developers Group. The law and the rules are explicit.

The rationale is plain: Certificate of Registration No. 31904, upon which the infringement case is based, remains valid and subsisting for as long as it has not been cancelled by the Bureau or by an infringement court. As such, Developers Group's Certificate of Registration in the principal register continues as "prima facie evidence of the validity of the registration, the registrant's ownership of the mark or trade-name, and of the registrant's exclusive right to use the same in connection with the goods, business or services specified in the certificate." Since the certificate still subsists, Developers Group may thus file a corresponding infringement suit and recover damages from any person who infringes upon the former's rights.

Furthermore, the issue raised before the BPTTT is quite different from that raised in the trial court. The issue raised before the BPTTT was whether the mark registered by Developers Group is subject to cancellation, as the Shangri-La Group claims prior ownership of the disputed mark. On the other hand, the issue raised before the trial court was whether the Shangri-La Group infringed upon the rights of Developers Group within the contemplation of Section 22 of Republic Act 166.

The case of Conrad and Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals is on point. The Court held:We cannot see any error in the above disquisition. It might be mentioned that while an application for the administrative cancellation of a registered trademark on any of the grounds enumerated in Section 17 of Republic Act No. 166, as amended, otherwise known as the Trade-Mark Law, falls under the exclusive cognizance of BPTTT (Sec. 19, Trade-Mark Law), an action, however, for infringement or unfair competition, as well as the remedy of injunction and relief for damages, is explicitly and unquestionably within the competence and jurisdiction of ordinary courts.

x x x      x x x      x x x

Surely, an application with BPTTT for an administrative cancellation of a registered trade mark cannot per se have the effect of restraining or preventing the courts from the exercise of their lawfully conferred jurisdiction. A contrary rule would unduly expand the doctrine of primary jurisdiction which, simply expressed, would merely behoove regular courts, in controversies involving specialized disputes, to defer to the findings or resolutions of administrative tribunals on certain technical matters. This rule, evidently, did not escape the appellate court for it likewise decreed that for "good cause shown, the lower court, in its sound discretion, may suspend the action pending outcome of the cancellation proceedings" before the BPTTT.

Following both law and the jurisprudence enunciated in Conrad and Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, the infringement case can and should proceed independently from the cancellation case with the Bureau so as to afford the owner of certificates of registration redress and injunctive writs. In the same light, so must the cancellation case with the BLA-IPO continue independently from the infringement case so as to determine whether a registered mark may ultimately be cancelled. However, the Regional Trial Court, in granting redress in favor of Developers Group, went further and upheld the validity and preference of the latter's registration over that of the Shangri-La Group.

There can be no denying that the infringement court may validly pass upon the right of registration. Section 161 of Republic Act No. 8293 provides to wit –

SEC. 161. Authority to Determine Right to Registration – In any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, order the cancellation of the registration, in whole or in part, and otherwise rectify the register with respect to the registration of any party to the action in the exercise of this. Judgement and orders shall be certified by the court to the Director, who shall make appropriate entry upon the records of the Bureau, and shall be controlled thereby. (Sec. 25, R.A. No. 166a).

With the decision of the Regional Trial Court upholding the validity of the registration of the service mark "Shangri-La" and "S" logo in the name of Developers Group, the cancellation case filed with the Bureau hence becomes moot. To allow the Bureau to proceed with the cancellation case would lead to a possible result contradictory to that which the Regional Trial Court has rendered, albeit the same is still on appeal. Such a situation is certainly not in accord with the orderly administration of justice. In any event, the Court of Appeals has the competence and jurisdiction to resolve the merits of the said RTC decision.