India: Darjeeling Tea -Europe Authenticates GI Status

Last Updated: 8 October 2012
Article by Kamakhya Srivastava

Geographical indications (GI) as a form of intellectual property have a great potential unlocking value in a brand. They are signs and indications necessarily linked to a particular territory and GI products constitute a genuine interest for producers as they unlock value by capitalizing on consumers' desire for diversity, typical, quality products.

Darjeeling tea, when brewed has a distinctive naturally occurring aroma, mouth feel and taste and the infused leaf has a distinctive fragrance. Connoisseurs assert that it is the champagne of teas since its flavor is unique and cannot be replicated. The quality, reputation and characteristics of Darjeeling tea are essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Due to these special characteristics, the tea has acquired recognition in India and abroad as Darjeeling tea since a long time and any member of trade or public in India or abroad ordering Darjeeling tea or seeing tea so advertised or offered for sale, will expect it to be cultivated and grown in Darjeeling district having the aforesaid special characteristics. Darjeeling tea is India's treasured Geographical Indication and forms a very important part of India's cultural and collective intellectual heritage.

In 2007, The Tea Board of India and the Darjeeling Tea Association invoked a provision in the EU Commission Regulation 510/2006 to ask the European Commission to accord the Protected Geographical Status (PGI) to Darjeeling Tea. Under the Commission Regulation 1898/2006 laid for the implementation of Regulation 510/2006, registrations of GIs by producers in third countries can be made directly to the Commission. The rules also allow individuals in third countries to object to an application for the protection of GI directly to the commission rather than through their governments. European Union had granted the geographical indication status to Darjeeling tea last year, however authenticating its origin was to be substantiated by implementation of this status, which involves a phasing-out period within which products, which do not conform to the law and are not authentic from Darjeeling, the hill district of Bengal, are driven out of the market. Recently, the European Trade Council and the German Tea Association, as reported, have agreed to confer the PGI status on Darjeeling tea, the first commodity from India to get such status. This implies that the tea produced only in Darjeeling can be sold as Darjeeling tea in the European Union. The blenders in EU countries now will not be allowed to mix any tea with Darjeeling tea and sell it as Darjeeling tea; only those packets that contain 100% Darjeeling tea with the Darjeeling Logo and the PGI logo labeled on them can be sold as Darjeeling tea. The reports also say that it has also been decided that the European Trade Council and the Darjeeling Tea Association along with the Tea Board will jointly promote Darjeeling Tea in the European market.

The system created to provide protection throughout EU for the geographical indications and designations of origin of certain agricultural products and foodstuffs is "Protected Geographical Indication" (PGI) system. It covers foodstuffs produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know-how. Under the system, the geographical link must occur in at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation and such link between the characteristics of the product and the geographical area must be proven.

Darjeeling tea is already registered as a GI in India. The PGI status in European Union will prevent misuse of the name Darjeeling Tea. In the past, the Tea Board has fought more than 15 cases against infringement and misuse of the Darjeeling name including from Sri Lanka, the US and France. It was successful in seeking rejection of trademark application for "Darjeeling Nouveau" by Republic of Tea (ROT), a US company. The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board of the US ruled that ROT had not been able to prove that consumers view Darjeeling tea as a generic type, as opposed to tea from the Darjeeling region in India. Another important victory for Tea Board was against Dusong, a french company, adoption of the Darjeeling mark with a kettle device. The Court of Appeal of Paris ruled that Dusong's mark impaired the GI Darjeeling and is prejudicial to the Tea Board's interest. Reports suggest that applications for registering Darjeeling Tea have been made before the Japanese Property Right Organisation for granting of the Production of Regional Origin (PRO) in Japan and also before the Trade Administration Authority (TAA) of USA for grant of Community Collection Mark in USA. The PRO and TAA are supposed to be similar to the PGI tag.

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