Giving life to end-of-life products: Delhi High Court's ruling on refurbished hard drives

This decision acknowledges the necessity for a robust secondary market, allowing for the reuse and recycling of electronic components, while also protecting the rights and reputations of trademark holders.
Hard Disk Drives
Hard Disk Drives

A recent case decided by the Delhi High Court titled Seagate Technology LLC v. Daichi International concerned the refurbishment and sale of Hard-Disk Drives (HDDs), with a focus on the implications of trademark infringement when original brand names are removed during this process.

This case is significant as it sets a precedent on how refurbished goods can be marketed without infringing on the trademark rights of the original manufacturers. The Court's interpretation of Section 30(3) and 30(4) of the Trade Marks Act 1999  serves as a guiding framework for similar disputes, ensuring that refurbishers respect the original trademarks while promoting the legal resale of end-of-life products.

End-life of HDDs

Used HDDs are imported by a number of Indian importers and subsequently sold to refurbishers. These refurbishers undertake a process where they remove the original "Seagate" or "Western Digital" brand names from the HDDs. After the removal of these trademarks, the refurbishers rebrand the HDDs under different names and provide an extended two-year guarantee along with them. These refurbished HDDs are no longer covered by the original manufacturer's warranty and are thus categorized as end-of-life (EOL) products.

These EOL products were initially supplied to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for integration into laptops, desktop computers and various other electronic devices. Despite their designation as EOLs, these HDDs still possess functional capabilities and are repurposed for alternative applications such as in surveillance systems or custom-built workstations.

The refurbishment process, while extending the useful life of these HDDs, involves significant alterations, particularly the removal of original brand names, which raises legal and trademark concerns. The absence of the original warranty and the introduction of an extended guarantee by the refurbishers highlight the transition of these HDDs from their initial OEM deployment to a secondary market. The case involving Seagate Technology LLC and Daichi International examined the legality and implications of these practices under trademark law, particularly focusing on the balance between facilitating the reuse of technological products and protecting the trademark rights of the original manufacturers.


The plaintiff (Seagate) in this case alleged that the defendant's (Daichi) actions of removing its brand name from these EOL HDDs and subsequently selling them as refurbished products, constituted trademark impairment. The plaintiff argued that such actions violated Section 30(3) and 30(4) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999.

Section 30(3) addresses a situation where the trademark has been applied without proper authorisation and Section 30(4) deals with the use of a trademark in a manner that may lead to the misrepresentation of the goods' origin or quality. Seagate contended that by removing its brand name and selling the HDDs as refurbished products, Daichi was misleading consumers and undermining the value and reputation of its trademark.

Daichi argued that it was not causing any functional impairment to the HDDs. Instead, Seagate had no use for the HDDs, as they considered them "end-of-life" and had discarded them. The original manufacturer’s warranty had expired. Daichi claimed that it was revitalising the HDDs by repairing and refurbishing them, offering a new two-year warranty with support services. It would inspect the drives, return defective ones to the supplier, and reformat the functional ones, erasing all previous data.

The refurbished HDDs were sold for their functionality, not aesthetics, benefiting consumers by providing a cheaper alternative. Daichi argued that removing the branding did not violate Section 29 or 30(4) of the Trade Marks Act 1999, as it lawfully procured the HDDs and provided details of the transactions, including Goods and Services Tax (GST) invoices.

Issues and findings

The legal issue in this case centered on whether Daichi's practice of selling refurbished HDDs after removing the original brand names constituted trademark infringement. The Court had to determine whether Daichi's actions misled consumers regarding the origin and quality of the products, thereby potentially causing confusion and harming the reputation of the original manufacturers' trademarks.

The Court needed to consider whether the removal of the brand names and lack of attribution to the original manufacturers violated the exclusive rights granted to trademark holders under the relevant trademark laws, including protections against unauthorised use and misrepresentation.

The Court found that once the HDDs were integrated into electronic equipment and sold with a composite warranty provided by the OEMs, the manufacturers no longer had control over the HDDs.

The plaintiffs did not extend any warranty to the end-users of the electronic equipment, effectively severing their connection with the HDDs at the point of integration into the equipment. The Court observed that the defendants sold the refurbished HDDs through formal, legitimate transactions, which included the issuance of GST invoices.

The plaintiffs were unable to present any evidence proving that these transactions were illegal. Their argument relied solely on the assertion that the payment of GST did not inherently legitimise the transactions. However, the Court determined that this assertion was insufficient to establish any illegitimacy in the sale of the refurbished HDDs by the defendants. Consequently, the Court concluded that there were no grounds to consider the defendants' sales activities as unlawful, and thus, the sale of refurbished HDDs by the defendants was deemed legitimate.

Implications of the Court's ruling

By permitting the sale of refurbished hard disk drives (HDDs) under specific conditions, the court's ruling carefully balances the interests of the original manufacturers with the practical realities and demands of the secondary market for end-of-life (EOL) products. This decision acknowledges the necessity for a robust secondary market, allowing for the reuse and recycling of electronic components, while also protecting the rights and reputations of trademark holders. It clarifies that as long as the refurbishers adhere to legitimate business practices and the original manufacturers have no ongoing control or warranty obligations over the refurbished products, such sales do not inherently constitute trademark infringement.

This case highlights the intricacies of trademark law in the context of refurbished goods. The Court's decision underscores the necessity for plaintiffs to provide concrete evidence of illegality in transactions rather than relying on assumptions about the implications of GST payments. The ruling also clarifies that the removal of original brand names from refurbished products does not inherently constitute trademark infringement if the original manufacturer has no ongoing control or warranty obligation over the products post-integration.

This ruling sets a precedent that mere removal of a brand name, coupled with proper commercial practices like issuing invoices and paying GST, does not on its own provide sufficient grounds for claiming trademark infringement. This case thus provides valuable insights into how trademark laws are applied in the context of refurbished products and the evidentiary standards required to prove illegality in such transactions.

The decision also underscores the insufficiency of merely assuming infringement based on the act of refurbishment or the presence of formal transactions, such as the payment of GST.

This ruling provides guidance for future cases involving refurbished goods, emphasising the importance of detailed evidence and the context in which refurbished products are sold. It ensures that the rights of trademark holders are protected without unduly stifling the secondary market, thereby promoting sustainability and economic efficiency in the reuse of EOL products.

Ajay Amitabh Suman is patent and trademark attorney practicing at the Delhi High Court.

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