Geographical Indications: Status and the Registration Process in India

When it comes to intellectual property rights, Geographical Indications, is one of the major. Geographical Indications or GIs are one of the eight intellectual property items coming under WTO’s TRIPs (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights). The GI provision allows member countries to protect products belongs to a specific territory against commercial exploitation by other parties. It can be done by including such products in a Geographical Indications Registry. It helps indicate the source (region) and consequently the quality of a certain product. GIs have major relevance in the contemporary global economy where countries and not just people are competing for a share of the market. For example, a US firm/company can not use a trademark of basmati rice as the rice is protected as a GI under the GI Registry of India.

GIs are special protection accorded to certain products based on the area of origin of that product.   Coming from a certain area these products are identified with either certain special characteristics, reputation, and qualities or all of them.

An area may have special raw materials, climate, soil, temperature, moisture, method of preparation or traditional expertise (or other various factors) that make a particular product special and worthy of protection. GIs respond to the immediate need of indigenous peoples and local communities, including farmers, handicraft artisans, manufacturers etc. of  protection in a globalized world where “similar” products and flood the market and ruin the demand for the original one.

What is Geographical Indications?

According to the WTO, “Geographical indications are indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.”

What are the Types of GIs?

GIs are primarily two different types and the protection offered under each type is distinct and unique.

  1. Protected Designation of Origin or PDO covers foodstuff which is produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using a recognized process. All stages of production must originate in a particular geographical area. The quality of the product, the processes for manufacturing it, the environment in which it is produced are all attributable to the specific region. This designation is generally given to agricultural products or food products that follow a particular traditional method of production.
  2. Protected Geographical Indication of PGI indicates a link with the area in any one stage of production- whether it be processing, preparation or packaging. In case of being granted a PGI status, the product must though traditionally, only partially hail from a specific place.

The link with the geographical area is stronger for PDOs than for PGIs, as has been demonstrated.

What Kinds of Protections are Accorded under Geographical Indication?

When a product is registered as a GI, it does not mean that it may be only produced in the area which has been accorded the protection. It only means that the name under which the GI is registered is protected. If the product does not hail from the protected area, then the registered name cannot be used for the same. For example, Kullu shawls from the Kullu region of Himachal Pradesh are listed as a GI in India and have their own distinct logo. These shawls are known for their bright geometric patterns. However, if a similar shawl is made in any other part of the world, the name Kullu Shawl, nor the logo attributed to it can be used. Similarly, Mysore silk from Karnataka, Bhagalpur silk from Bihar is all protected under GI norms.

What are the Justifications for GI Protection?

GI protection is generally granted to conserve a certain technique of production or some unique attribute of the product. GIs protect traditional practices and knowledge of the people of the region from where the product originates. The protection of intellectual property in general is to reward the creator for their work and financial risk. The rationale behind the protection through GIs is the same. GI protects producers and manufacturers, securing their reputation and consequently their economy as well as protects the consumers by assuring them of the origin of the product as mentioned on the label. Products that are registered GIs have a certain quality, production method, and special features. Protection of the GI is beneficial for consumers as they are ensured of a certain quality (if not the same every time) when they buy any product that is protected under the GI regime.

What are the Laws for GI Protection in India?

The legal system for protection of GI in India has been recent in its development. The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act came into force in 2003, after being enacted in 1999. India recognized the need for GI protection when a US based company called Rice Tec started developing Basmati rice. Moreover, tea from all around the world was being passed off as “Darjeeling Tea” though in no way hailing from the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Since the enactment of the GI Act, over 272 GIs have been accorded protection, the very first being the Darjeeling tea (As on June 10, 2016). The latest addition to the list is Kashmiri Hand Knotted Carpet.

Under the Indian law, goods need be agricultural, natural or manufactured, in order to be accorded protection under the GI Act. For a good to be registered as a GI, at least one process of production- manufacturing, processing, preparation- must take place in the geographical area. Certain goods cannot be registered as GI such as scandalous or objectionable matter, generic name that has lost its original meaning and become the common name or any registration in contravention of the provisions of the statute.

India has a GI Registry that entertains all applications for GI protection. Once registered, it is published in the GI Journal, after which the registration is open to objections. If no objections arise, the GI is granted. GI protection is granted for a period of ten years. After the ten years elapse, the registration may be renewed subsequently for ten year periods.

Some popular Indian GIs are Darjeeling tea, Tirupathi Laddu, Banaras brocades and sarees, Mysore Sandal Soap, Nagpur orange etc.

Procedures for Geographical Indications Registration

The Registration Process: As per the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 an association of persons or producers can apply for GIs for specific products supported by required documents. The Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks (CGPDT), (under the Dept of Industrial Policy and Promotion of Ministry of Commerce and Industry) is the ‘Registrar of Geographical indications’. The CGPDT directs and supervises the functioning of the Geographical Indications Registry (GIR).

Complaints against GI registration can be made at Intellectual Property Appellate Board at Chennai.

Registration is valid for a period of ten years and the same can be renewed after that. By registering an indication in India, a right holder can prevent its unauthorized use by others and also promote economic prosperity of the producers of the said good in a particular region. An unregistered GI can be enforced by initiating an action for passing off. India’s GI Registry is situated in Chennai and like the other intellectual property rights; GIs also come under the purview of the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks.

So GIs are an efficient way to protect traditional knowledge and methods that are being increasingly threatened in a globalized world and are especially significant for India where the large part of the country are still relying on the traditional methods of livelihood.

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