SpicyIP Tidbits: coconut-picking and musician-forgetting

Where have all the nariyals gone?

The industries department of the Government of Kerala has announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh who can invent a coconut-picking machine. According to this report from the BBC, the reward is open to anyone in the world who can create a machine that reaches coconuts at 30 metres. Apparently, professional pickers are becoming a rare species, and coconut palms are bearing the burden. (Image from here)
I second the search whole-heartedly, not least because I am partial to the occasional elneer (tender coconut water). On a recent trip to Kerala, I was disturbed to learn that the best tender coconuts could be found only in neighbouring Tamil Nadu (and I actually drove across to have my share). In addition to the fact that most palms are privately owned, could labour shortage have anything to do with this?

[As an addendum, I would also support any project that ensures the delivery of fresh coconuts to deprived areas. In the parts where I live, we have on offer only dried and very sad-looking tender coconuts that come not from the south of India, but from the eastern coast. Not a patch on what I have had elsewhere.]

UPDATE: At least two of our readers have pointed us to inventions that are already extant in the art, which may be of use here – an Indian invention (patent no. 194566) here and a US invention available here. We hope someone in the ministry is reading this!

Musical memory-loss

Elsewhere, if, like me, you have seen the early days of cable television in India, and are a movie buff to boot, you will surely be looking forward to that dashing cowboy superhero of yore with guntastic talents, Quick Gun Murugun. The movie soundtrack has already found itself a fan following, with some interesting performances by Raghu Dixit and that SaReGaMa veteran Vijay Prakash, but some feathers have been ruffled: Fox Studios and Sony Pictures had apparently forgotten to credit Sagar Desai, the music composer in the credits (and perhaps other people as well), as this rediff news item points out.

As an update to this, I have information that suggests Sagar Desai will be going to court on this matter, seeking to be credited/attributed for his music creations. No formal news on this is out, but if this is true, it is a rare opportunity to study how performer’s rights issues are played out in India. We shall be all ears on this front.

Update: Sagar Desai’s “Mind It” tactic worked, and he and Fox/Sony/PhatPhish have reached an out-of-court settlement in this matter. No money has changed hands, but credit has been given where it is due. See this story and this story.


  1. Sumathi Chandrashekaran

    A comment I received on email on this post from Dr Rama Murthy:

    “Till the new machine is invented, I suggest that the cranes (used by Electricity Board to fix the bulbs in the roads) can be used to pick up the coconuts. Two persons are required-one for operating the crane and other for picking up the coconuts. This is also a safe device.”

    I agree entirely, and I think it’s a great idea (duh! so obvious, no?). Meanwhile, am curious to know if any readers know if this is already being used in coconut plantations in any part of India (or elsewhere!).

  2. Anonymous

    Due to non availability of traditional coconut pickers, Kerala state government has announced reward for invention of coconut picking machine. I discern this announcemnet in two ways. One is the same scarcity of pickers (Labourers) is existing in tamil nadu (southern part) to pick ‘Nongu’ (in tamil) from palm tree. It is comparitively very difficult to hold and go up in the palm tree than coconut tree. So, if there is any picking machine is invented it may also be used in palm tree also.

    Second thing is that the state of Keral is being ruled by Communist party. Always they are against mechanisation. Even during 1960’s they opposed introduction of floor mill. I appreciate now they have realised the truth that scientific advancement in every field is not preventable.

    Examiner of Trade Marks,
    New Delhi

  3. Latha R Nair

    Sumathi – Being a Keralite and having lived 17 years of my life there, I could completely relate to your post! These days, my parents often lament about the fast disappearing tribe of coconut pickers who once used to religiously come home every month and pull down the coconuts! Your post made me nostalgic…. To find a dedicated picker is now too difficult, thanks to the picker unions and the label of a highly literate state! If coconut is not picked regularly, they start dropping off the tree thereby rendering it a hazard to those who live nearby or pass under it! The desperation of the government is quite understandable!

  4. Sumathi Chandrashekaran

    Anon Examiner – thanks for your comments. I agree – a machine on these lines that can be used in a coconut tree can also be used for palmyra trees (to pick nongu – another favourite, but rarer to find in northern parts).

    On your other comment, Kerala has acquired political notoriety on certain matters, but I suspect this call may have been prompted not by a realisation that technology may not be such a bad thing after all, but by other changes, particularly demographic – i.e., literacy, evolving skills, migrating populations, and so on.

  5. Sumathi Chandrashekaran

    Dr Rama Murthy, who wrote in earlier, has drawn attention to an Indian invention that the Kerala govt may be interested in:

    It is described thus: “a simple, safe, easy to use device for any season and by any person, cutting down the climbing time to 1-2 minutes for a 40 m tree as against 4-5 minutes as conversationally required. It can be an income generating product for NGOs working for economic empowerment. An Indian patent no. (194566) has been granted to this innovation. The project has been supported under MVIF. His long customer list includes clients from North and South America and South Asian a coastal countries. His unit has been registered in the name of St. Mary Industrial Complex and Research Center.”

    I thank Dr Murthy for providing us with this information, and I hope the government despairs a little less now. 🙂

  6. Siddharth


    regarding this coconut picking machine issue. I feel a different type of scheme and reward policy might set a better example.

    With all the Bayh Dohl and other issues, what is increasingly evident is the sheer lack of industry capacity to harness reseach that is done at universities. Clubbing these two issue together. What can be done is the govt should organize a national level competition from all Engineering and technical institutions in the country. Identify a company which would have the capacity to manufacture the device. If such a device is patentable then the govt should bear the cost of filing the patent. A non exclusive license can be given to the company to manufacture the device. A part of the license fee can be given to the inventors. Govt gets another steady source of income at least for a few years. the company gets to sell these devices back to the govt at a decent price and to others who are interested. Everyone will be happy, the inventors, the govt, the company and we IP professionals.

    I agree that this is easier said than done. But seems like a plan none-the-less. Many rough edges have to be chipped off.

  7. Harry

    These posts leave me with immense fellings of nostalgia for “nongu” or what is known in Andhra as “thaati pandu”

    My origins are from a small village called Salur in AP, now a crowded, unplanned, densely populated town. Travelling from UK to India, I do not visit Salur so much now as I used to in the past, preferring to meet friends and relatives in the larger metros. But this year I happened to take my children to Salur during the right season for “nongu” and hoped they would enjoy the fruit I often speak to them about.

    There were absolutely none in the market. I was told that this was no longer a profitable business.

    Utter disappointment. Wonder if this has anything to do with a shortage of pickers? On the positive side perhaps this has to do with the improvement of wages and living standards in Salur. Less people doing “menial work” I imagine?

    Harry Thangaraj

  8. Sneha

    Dear Sumathi,

    With respect to your post about performer’s rights, I have a question (it may be slightly unrelated).

    If memory serves me right, Sec. 38 (Performer’s rights) was added to the Copyright Act via the 1994 amendment. Further, Sec. 57 (Author’s Special Rights) or simply termed Moral Rights was also added via the 1994 amendment. Also, there is a proposed amendment to the Copyright Act for inclusion of a performer’s moral rights as well via Sec. 38A.

    My question is, why do you think the Legislature refrained from adding performer’s moral rights via the 1994 amendment when they clearly gave recognition and protection to performer’s rights and moral rights of authors?

    I understand its more of a policy question and I would really appreciate your view on this.

    Sneha Jain

  9. Sumathi Chandrashekaran

    Hi all – thanks for your comments. Sorry for the delay in getting back.

    #Siddharth – good idea 🙂 But knowing the way the system works, no one is going to have the patience to invest in anything of the kind! Everything should be instantaneous, even inventions. Meanwhile, there may open new wards in hospitals in southern India exclusively for coconut injuries…

    #Harry – I got anecdotal news from Kerala of several concerns: (1) labour shortage, for obvious reasons – higher literacy, opportunities outside the state/country; (2) subtler social problems, e.g., local gangs not allowing labourers from outside ‘the ilaaqa’ to work within for whatever reason, communal or otherwise; (3) influx of workers from other parts of India, esp northern India, but reluctance to hire them at individual, domestic level. As a result, the coconuts get forgotten, like the musicians, until one fine day, they all fall down.

    #ganapathy – thanks for pointing out the invention. Yes, I added it a little after putting up the post.

    #Sneha – Wow. Great question. That’s worthy of an entire post in itself, and I have to say I don’t really know why it wasn’t included in the first update attempt.

    On a personal front, I have been trying to better understand performers’ rights, particularly from the POV of a classical music performer which is so unique to India, and yet sorely ignored. I found some preliminary resources on this online: (a study by Shubha Chaudhuri on IP Management in ethnomusicology archives), as well as the archive website itself – which you may want to check out, if you haven’t already.

    The WIPO study may have some clues to your query, although it comes with a ‘community’ twist: the author points out the fate of community/folk artists, as well as accompanists, however accomplished, in a classical music performance, who are invariably ignored. This brings up issues of community ownership as well as individual performers’ moral rights, which are only now being recognised, as artists/performers become more aware of their rights. Missing out in 1994 was perhaps precisely because performers didn’t have representatives at the ‘lobby’ level. Which is why, now, the current 38A/performers’ moral rights issue has the very public backing of people like Shubha Mudgal/Aneesh Pradhan and their Underscore Records. There is also enough anecdotal evidence to demonstrate increased awareness. It is to be seen how it takes legislative shape eventually.


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