India: Indian GIs At Menace

Last Updated: 2 July 2015
Article by Zoya Nafis

Co-authored by: Mr. Abhigyan Ashok, final year student of BBA.LL.B from Faculty of Law, the ICFAI University, Dehradun

"Champagne", "Cognac", "Roquefort", "Scotch Whisky", "Tequila", "Darjeeling", and "Coorg"– are among some well-known examples for names which are associated throughout the world with products of a certain nature and quality. One common feature among all of these names is their geographical connotation. These examples show that geographical indication (GIs) can acquire a high reputation and thus may be regarded among other valuable commercial assets available with the nation.

Geographical indications are considered as a very special kind of distinctive sign used in commerce falling within a precise category of intellectual property as it recognizes a particular geographical area in which one or numerous enterprise are located which produces very specific kind of product for which the geographical indication is used rather than being associated to any particular individual. Which means that there is no 'owner' of a geographical indication, but instead each and every enterprise present and indulged in production and manufacturing of such product preferably has the right to use the said indication for the product originating in the said area possibly subject to compliance with certain quality standards. And for this very reason, they are often exposed to misappropriation, counterfeiting or forgery and hence their protection at national as well as international level is highly anticipated.

India, a land of diversity, is the seventh largest country in the world, and the second most populous. It has more than: 1.2 billion people, 400 hundred languages, 30 religions, 45,500 species of plants, and 91,200 species of animal on record.  But still each time someone claims a bit of India as their own and in these times of Patent war, we're fighting claims to about 40 products all over the world. India has much to gain, and arguably loose when it comes to recognising its genetic animal and plant resources and traditional knowledge as well as products designated to specific geographical origins.

GIs are a unique breed of intellectual property rights as they have a collective and public dimension. The sole purpose of GI protection is not only to empower a single producer but to empower all those communities that have been indulged in producing and manufacturing a particular good which is unique to any particular geographical region subsequently leading to socio economic progress in such region and to all such communities involved. However innumerable hindrances and obstacles ranging from lack of awareness of GI protection, varying qualities of product fragmented market as well as non-availability of reliable quality monitoring support system to differentiate "genuine products" from "adulterated products" along with various others results in dilution of the objective of such protection, thus playing a fundamental role in the ultimately forsaking of this unique crafts. In the amidst of all noise, the need for India should not just ponder on patents, but rather on other mainstream of IP rights too which even consist bringing up Geographical Indication into the forefront of debate. "A geographical integration or GI is India's strength as practically everything we grow or make is somewhere linked to a region. This right has to be strengthened and protected".1

The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 along with Lisbon Agreement and various other bilateral agreements between the Member States provides for national as well as international registration of geographical integration. But the efficiency and effectiveness of any law can be adjudged only by its implementations rather than by a well written legal framework. Insignificant organisational support including nonexistence of enforcement mechanism in the Member States results in the deficiency of uniformity for the registration of GIs.

Recently, a praise worthy initiative was taken by the Tezpur University Intellectual Property Right Cell (TUIPR), along with the IPR Cell of the Dibrugarh University and volunteers from the North Lakhimpur college by organising a camp in order to spread awareness among the local people, whereby the Muga Silk of Assam, regardless of having received a GI in 2007 found itself overwhelmed by a strange issue of scarce and negligible number of registered users. By the end of this camp, more than 90 people applied to be registered user of Muga Silk which points out that even a small step taken can initiate a significant impact. The laudable efforts and results of this camp should prompt the government to take a cue from the Northeast initiative which must further be replicated across the country. Moreover such camp and awareness programs should be addressing to people in their local language because craftspeople who come from east or the northeast or the south may not know either Hindi or English which cannot be a reason for their rights being less valuable. "Unless the poor of the world agitate for themselves to be heard, there will be no changes in their circumstances".2

May be its dire time to show that geographical indications are certainly valuable assets and stringent implementation of the Geographical Indication Act is needed to be more apt, mechanically efficient and notably effective.

1 Prabha Sridevan.J, former judge Madras High Court & former Chairperson IPAB at 15:17 Hrs on 24.06.2015

2 Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy – Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (2005)

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