Guest Post: ‘Tirupati’ – Laddu or the Lord?


After everybody in the Indian mainstream media, from the op-ed writer to the cub reporter, has run riot on the Tirupati Laddu news-item, with their own interpretations of whether it’s a GI copyright on offer, or a GI patent, we thought the weekend was a good time to take a breather and bring you that rarity – the “expert” opinion!
Topically, this is a story we have discussed and debated in this space, which those of you interested may wish to refer to. You do know, by now, that the Tirupati Laddu, purportedly originating in the temple town of Andhra Pradesh, has been granted a GI registration.

In this post, we bring to you an after-grant analysis of the case, with a focus on the implications this might have on the evolution of GIs in India in the times to come. To add a dash of spice to the laddu (cardamom or clove? I leave that to you), the blogger’s identity remains anonymous – a ghost, if you will. On my part, I can assure you that the credentials of the ghost are impeccable. and the analysis that follows is well-reasoned. It is for you to decide if the recipe that has been served up is to your liking or not.

Tirupati’ – Laddu or the Lord?

One was just about heaving a sigh or relief after the withdrawal of the several geographical indication (GI) applications filed by Reliance Industries Limited, a public Limited company, for ‘Jamnagar’ and ‘Krishna Godawari’ for petrol etc., when the news broke about the registration of ‘Tirupati laddus’ having been granted registration as a GI! (Image from The Hindu)

Considering the potential of any discussions on the famed laddus to hurt the faith of millions in Lord Venkateshwara, let me start this post with an earnest caveat – I mean no disrespect to the Lord or his devotees by writing this. My only purpose is to analyse whether this registration was granted in accordance with the provisions of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 [‘the Act’ for brevity]. It is also my purpose here to examine whether the applicant in this case had other options than a GI registration to protect the famous laddus and the devotees of the Lord from fakes being sold. Bearing in mind that the laddus are prasadam from the Lord, I request the readers, most of whom I believe are lawyers, to dissociate the concerns raised below from their loyalty to the Lord and read it with a dispassionate mind.

Was the GI registration for Tirupati Laddu as per the law?

The applicant which registered the laddus under the Act is the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), a trust which is managing the administration of the temple. TTD sells these Laddus for a price to the devotees who visit the temple. A Wikipedia report states that in the year 2007, these laddus fetched a sum of $10 million! Whether the Wikipedia report is to be believed or not, the statement of case filed by TTD along with the GI application which was advertised in the Geographical Indication Journal No 28 at page 38 states that the cost of a small laddu is Rs.25 and a big laddu is Rs. 100 and that on an average, 70,000 devotees visit the temple every day (at page 60). So TTD could be making a profit of anything between Rs. 17,50,000 to 70,00,000 in one day by selling these laddus!

Being a product touted as a GI, I innocently and momentarily wondered if all that money was going to the development and betterment of the producers of the laddu, who had a collective right in the name “Tirupati laddu”, but I was sadly mistaken! Unlike Colombian coffee or Darjeeling tea, there are no “producers” who make these laddus and bring it to the temple to be distributed and eventually get a share of the colossal profits that TTD is making. On the contrary, TTD is the producer. All that money earned by TTD from the sale of the laddus presumably goes to TTD’s kitty because the statement of case filed clearly demonstrates that TTD is the sole beneficiary. The laddus are made by workers of the temple as well as contract workers hired by TTD. There is no mention of any other beneficiary in the application except TTD.

While I do not dispute the unique taste of the laddus, derived apparently from divine intervention (see the statement of case which states that, “The laddu gets its reputation not from its taste alone but from its sanctity”), as a concerned member of the IP community, I wish to know the implications of registering goods produced by private entities as GIs. This issue assumes significance when considered in the light that GIs are collective community rights protecting a group of producers [see Section 11 (1) of the Act read with Rules 32(5) and 32(6)(a)&(f)]. If private rights such as the one in this case were permitted to be registered under the Act, would it not militate against the very spirit of GI protection which is aimed at protecting, preserving and promoting collective community rights as opposed to private monopoly rights?

Permitting such registrations would lead to a situation where any company or private enterprise carrying on a monopolistic business can get a GI for that name as long as they demonstrate that they are the only ones who manufacture or produce these goods and that these goods have unique features. For instance, those who have relished the famous Shrewsbury biscuits from Kayani Bakery in Pune swear by the said biscuit. Kayani Bakery has a board outside which states that they have no branches. Tomorrow, if Kayani Bakery finds fakes being sold as Shrewbury biscuits, should they register it as a GI to fight the fakes? This was certainly not the intention behind the GI Act. On the contrary, if several producers of a biscuit called Shrewberry manufactured in Pune which followed a uniform recipe and tasted exactly the same irrespective of who produced it, it would be a fit case for staking a claim for GI rights in Shrewberry biscuits.

Did TTD have options other than GI?

Yet another issue I am compelled to raise is what would happen if the numerous replica Tirupati temples in India and around the world choose to make similar laddus (I am assuming they do not currently do so in view of TTD’s statement of case that these laddus are not manufactured anywhere else in the world)? Could the TTD say that the method of production coupled with the divine intervention by the Lord that gives the unique taste to the laddus can happen only in the real Tirupati and not in the replicas? I am confident that the Lord would have no qualms about pleasing all those devotees who have unwavering faith in his powers of intervention in the circumstances. To assert otherwise would be to equate the Lord with us, mere mortals! (Image from here)

In my opinion, the TTD failed to consider better alternatives for protection under the Trade Marks Act, 1999 as well as the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. In fact, if the claims of TTD were to be believed, “Tirupati”, the geographical name, has acquired enough secondary meaning to qualify for registration as a trademark in respect of laddus under the Trade Marks Act, 1999.

Lastly, there are several temples in South India which are known for their prasadam offered in the form of payasam (sweet rice porridge made with unrefined sugar, sugar candy etc) and other food stuffs. The famous ‘aravana payasam’ and ‘appam’ from Sabarimala temple, ‘tirumadhuram’ (a mixture of sugar candy, sugar, raisins and ghee), from the Mookambika temple in Mangalore, and the ‘palpayasam’ (sweet porridge made with milk, ghee and rice) from the Sri Krishna temple near Alleppey are just a few examples. These are available only from these temples. While the taste of these delicacies is indeed unique, it is a debatable issue if these qualify as GIs. Seeing how Tirupati laddu made it to the GI register, it will be just a matter of time before these temples get into similar acts. It is significant here to take a look at the objectives for which GIs are protected in other jurisdictions such as Europe whose legislation permit only groups or associations to apply for GIs [See Article 5.1 of EC Regulation 510/2006].

Instances like the Tirupati laddu give rise to a serious concern on the evolving legal regime for protection of GIs in India which is still taking baby steps. While it is only natural to falter in the beginning, it is important not to forget the lessons learnt from the various falls. If not, it would be quite a wobbly growth for this evolving legal regime.

25 comments.

  1. AvatarR S PRAVEEN RAJ

    Thanks to Sumathi for this post.

    Mixing religion with IPR will have serious consequences. It is like playing with fire and petrol.

    The Controller General and his team continue to make mistakes one after the other. In the beginning of this year, the Trademark Registry granted a ‘Trademark on the picture of deity’ in Attukal temple Thiruvananthapuram on a TM application by the temple trust. GI registry has made a similiar mistake this month by granting GI tag on Tirupati ladddu.

    TRIPS forays into Religion and faith …….. and the Indians happily welcome this daemon dragging in to our Temples.

    It’s Incredible India.

    Reply
  2. Avatarvara

    Registering GI’s for individual organizations either private or govt will send a wrong statement. I thank the author for writing such a good article.

    Reply
  3. AvatarAnonymous

    Is there something call “GI patent” OR “GI copyright”?
    I think GI and Patent and copyright are all different types of IP.

    Reply
  4. AvatarAH

    Brilliant analysis.
    The whole concept of GI indicators has been corrupted and the spirit of this well intentioned legislation is lost. And our media presents it as a feather in our collective Indian cap.

    Reply
  5. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    @ Anonymous

    GI also is an IPR. Other than that it has nothing to do with ‘patent’ or ‘copyright’.

    The trust that administers the Tirumala Tirupati Temple had applied for the GI certification last year with the chennai-based Geographical Indication Registry under Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. The conferment of GI tag on ‘Tirupati laddu’ would ban others from making and marketing the ‘laddus’ under the same name.

    Under the GI statute, the certified goods should be produced or processed or prepared only in the region or territory under mention, and the given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. The GI status gives the Tirumala laddus a built-in legal protection and makes any infringement of the rights an offence.

    Interestingly, the GI Act meant is for the protection of “Goods” only and the act defines “Goods” as any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry. Of course, ‘Tiruppathi Laddu’ cannot be classified as one among agricultural goods, natural goods or handicraft, leaving an option to schedule it under industrial goods. But it is quite hard to believe that temple offerings are equivalent to manufactured goods or commercially significant commodities.

    The Temple Trust might have sought IPR protection over “faith indicators” under a false impression that they would get a “monopoly” through GI. However it appears as if the temple trust is dragging itself to the litigation arena. It is worth mentioning here that “monopoly” is an alien to “democracy”, and hence banned in a democratic republic. However “exclusive rights” for the “products of creative mind” are being allowed as Intellectual Property Rights with reasonable restrictions, only because it is essential for industrial growth.

    Reply
  6. AvatarLatha R Nair

    Dear Pravin Raj,

    While I am not saying that Tirupati laddu qualifies for registration under the Act, “food stuffs” per se are registrable under the Act. Please see the definition clauses. It being a holiday, I do not have access to the bare Act – so can’t point out the exact provision. Hope you do not mind my pointing this out.

    Best regards, Latha R Nair

    Reply
  7. AvatarR S PRAVEEN RAJ

    I do agree with Dr. Latha that the definition of “goods” under section 2(1)(f) of GI Act includes food stuff also. A careful reading of this provision indicate that ‘food stuff’ would be covered only if such food stuff is classifiable as any of the following.

    a) agricultural goods
    b) natural goods
    c) manufactured goods
    d) any goods of handicraft or of industry.

    Normally any food item of industrial significance and that is sold in the market would fall under any of the above categories if it can be stocked, preserved and sold as a “goods”.

    My confusion is only with regard to the industrial significance and market potential of a “temple offering”

    Reply
  8. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    I have a doubt, which i would like to post for a feedback from lawyers.

    TTD states in its application –

    ‘The laddu gets its reputation not from its taste alone but from its sanctity as well’, since they are first offered as naivedyam to the Lord” (at page 64 of GI journal).

    Does it not attract the provisions in section 9(a) and section 9(d) of the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 and prejudice article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

    Section 9(d) says – A Geographical Indication which comprises or contains any matter likely to hurt the religious susceptibilities of any class or section of the citizens of India shall not be registered

    Section 9(a) says – A Geographical Indication the use of would be likely to deceive or cause confusion shall not be registered as a geographical indication

    If so judicial review of the matter could be possible in High Court (Andhra) or Supreme Court on a PIL under article 226 or article 32 citing a prejudice to article 25 of the constitution.

    well, i’m not a lawyer. It may be a foolish question also. But I’m afraid by strutting of IPR into Religion.

    May I have the expert opinion from Lawyers and constitutional experts.

    Reply
  9. AvatarVarun Singh

    I congratulate the author to write such a prudent article, which tries to explain the law relating to GI without hurting the sentiments of the people.

    Reply
  10. AvatarR S PRAVEEN RAJ

    Do they really require a GI tag for “Tirupathi Laddu” and its recognition as a “goods” ?

    TTD themselves mentions in their application (at page 42 of GI journal No. 28)- ‘these laddus are offered as prasadam only to the devotees who visit Tirumala and offer worship to Lord Venkateswara here and not to any one else. Therefore to get ‘Tirupathi laddu’ one has to visit the abode of the Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala. The said laddus cannot be obtained by any other means in the world’.

    That means, Tirupathi Laddu does not deserve a “goods” status as it is not sold in the market. Hence they do not require a GI tag for the temple offering. On the other hand, a GI tag on a temple prasadam is exemplary of commercialization of divine affairs.

    Who has misled TTD ? The GI Authorities or GI activists ?

    Reply
  11. AvatarMeghna

    this is not the case with Tirupati laddus only. even the aranmula kannadi enjoys GI protection where the details of making it are known only to a few people belonging to a family in aranmula. The procedure of making this mirror has been within the family for many generations.

    Reply
  12. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    I agree with Ms. Meghna that the GI protection turns out to be a kind of “monopoly” in the case of aranmula mirror also, similar to the case of Tirupati laddu.

    However I understand that aranmula mirror is meant to be sold in the market. But TTD says that ‘Tirupati laddu’ will be available to the visitors of the temple alone.

    I mean that Tirupathi Laddu does not deserve a “goods” status under GI, as it is not sold in the market.

    Reply
  13. Avatarmnbvcxzaq1

    this ‘gi for tirupti laddu’ thing saddens me even more than the reliance’s attempt for gi for its jamnagar oil, etc. coz in the case of reliance, it was merely an ‘attempt’. but in the laddu case, it has already been granted. in the former case, i had refrained from being critical of the gi office functionaries, but the laddu case leaves me with no option but to question their legal acumen. i just fail to understand how can an authority fail to see that the application itself was fundamentally flawed n that it was against the fundamental principles/spirit/rationale of the gi act itself. leave aside the smaller demerits, the fundamental flaw is regarding the non-representative-ness of the community/group factor of the applicants. rest of the issues r not even worth consideration, as the applicant is not even entitled (no locus standi) to file its claim under the gi act. however, just for clarification, i would like to clarify that it is likely to qualify as ‘goods’. also, meghna’s comparison of aranmula kannadi with tirupati laddu doesnt seem to be apt, as the former has primarily a secular item while the tirupati laddu has a religious undertone. lastly, i dont agree with R.S. Praveen Raj regarding the applicability of sections 9(a) n 9(d) (vis-a-vis article 25 of constitution). section 9(d) requires the element of ‘hurt’. section 9(a) requires the elements of ‘deception’ n ‘confusion’. all the aforementioned 3 elements r absent in the laddu case, in my humble view. so, no question of it being violative of article 25 of the constitution of india.
    -aditya kant

    Reply
  14. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    What does Dr. Jairam Ramesh (Minister) say ?

    (In a news item appeared in http://www.indianexpress.com on Feb 23, 2009)

    A DISCUSSION on Geographical Indicators (GIs) in Parliament led to an interesting bit of information being shared by Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh. While explaining the need for greater sensitisation on the subject, he told the Rajya Sabha that the lack of understanding had led to people filing applications for articles like the Tirupati laddoo and Krishna-Godavari gas among others.

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/gi-for-tirupati-laddoo/426916/

    Reply
  15. Avatarmnbvcxzaq1

    (…..contd from my last comment)
    one important point that i missed out in my last comment. the gi functionaries shud learn that the wordings in the section 11(1) r “producers” (not ‘producer’) n “interest of producers” (not ‘interest of producer’). i just hope they discern the significance of using the plural form! n this applies to ril’s jamnagar attempt, aranmula kannadi grant n this tirupati laddu grant. if they dont realise their mistake soon, it will result in serious aberrations in the gi jurisprudence, wich ll ve nat’l n int’l implications.
    -aditya kant

    Reply
  16. AvatarR S PRAVEEN RAJ

    @ Sumathi, aditya kant and other commentators

    GI registration on ‘Tirupati Laddu’ conveys a message to other temple/church authorities that “private appropriation” of divine objects also are legally permissible. Therefore, it will be dangerous if ‘Tirupati Laddu’continues to be registered as a GI.

    I believe that the IP Academicians have a responsibility to see that this obvious mistake is corrected, especially when the authorities and the fourth estate neglect the caveats from experts.

    My doubts are

    a) Can the possibility of Judicial Review be ruled out ? If possible, how ?

    b) What are the choices left to the IP Academicians ?

    c) Why not somebody employ the provisions in the GI Act for getting the registration for ‘Tirupati ladddu’ revoked ? Then, who will take pain to spare time, money and other resources (of course for national interest)?

    Reply
  17. Avatarhelloworld

    Why not all the like-minded people or IP group/ subject matter specialists jointly take efforts to see that such things do not happen? It will be more productive than one or two individuals taking the responsibility.

    Reply
  18. Avatarhelloworld

    Why not all the like-minded people or IP group/ subjectmatter specialists jointly take efforts to see that such mistakes do not happen? It will be more productive than one or two individuals taking the whole responsibility.

    Reply
  19. AvatarNair

    Section 27 of Chapter IV of The Geographical Indication of Goods Act, 1999 deals with Rectification and Correction of the Register.

    The Registrar or Appellate Board may cancell or vary the registration on an application from an aggrieved person.

    Now the question is who is an aggrieved person for filing the above application under this Act.

    The application form is Form GI-6 and the fee is Rs. 1000/-.

    Reply
  20. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    I have sent a letter-petition to the Chief Justice of India. It is reported in Business Line Today (03/10/09).

    “Plea filed in apex court against GI tag for Tirupati Laddu”

    Vinson Kurian

    Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 2 A public interest petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking ‘suo motu’ action against the grant of intellectual property right (IPR) protection to ‘Tirupati Laddu,’ which is a temple offering.

    The petitioner is Mr R.S. Praveen Raj, scientist at the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, responsible for IPR management and technology transfer, among others.

    Earlier, Mr Raj worked as Examiner of Patents and Designs at the Chennai branch of the Patent Office.

    PREJUDICE CAUSED

    Registering Tirupati Laddu as ‘goods’ under the Geographical Indication (GI) of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, has caused prejudice to Article 25 of the Constitution and violation of Section 9(d), Section 11 and Section 9(a) of the GI act, Mr Raj submitted.

    He also voiced concern about the danger involved in the ‘private appropriation’ of ‘religious symbols’ and ‘divine indicators.’

    The distinct flavour and deliciousness of the laddus made the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), administrators of the Lord Venkateswara Temple, go in for exclusive rights.

    A range of rich spices like saffron, refined camphor, cashew nuts, dry grapes, cardamom and ghee go into their making.

    The GI Act is meant only for protection of goods and the act defines ‘goods’ as any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry.

    Food stuff also is included in the definition under Section 2(1) (f) provided such food stuff can be stocked, preserved and sold as ‘goods’.

    But Tirupati Laddu cannot be classified as an agricultural good, nor a natural good or a handicraft, leaving the option to schedule it only under industrial goods. But it is quite hard for devotees to believe that temple offerings are equivalent to manufactured goods or commercially significant commodities, Mr Raj said.

    Allowing the GI registration of goods produced by private entities would defeat the spirit of GI protection, which is meant for protecting, preserving and promoting collective community rights as opposed to private monopoly rights.

    However, exclusive rights for ‘products of creative mind’ are being allowed as IPR with reasonable restrictions, only because it is essential for industrial growth. No industrial purpose is served by the grant of ‘goods’ status to a temple offering, Mr Raj submitted.

    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/10/03/stories/2009100350960900.htm

    Reply
  21. Avatarvg

    mohanraj has filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court through

    his advocate Manikandan vathan chettiar challenging the GI to the

    laddoo and the Trade mark given for kannagi image. The draft makes

    lovely reading. What a lawyer Manikandan ? The link is

    http://secularcitizen.net/

    Reply
  22. AvatarR.S. Praveen Raj

    Today, I received a reply from IPAB on my petition to IPAB dated 2nd July 2010 seeking ‘suo motu’ action against GI for ‘Tirupati laddu’ (http://secularcitizen.blogspot.com/2010/07/tirupati-laddu-gi-petition-to-ipab.html). Reply letter DY. NO. 3111/2010/6272 dated 20th August 2010 signed by Shri. G. Vijayaraghavan, Deputy Registrar of IPAB reads as follows

    “With reference to your letter dated 2nd July 2010, I’m to inform you that IPAB has no power to take ‘suo moto’ action as requested by you, as the act provides for filing rectification application under Section 27 of the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Procedure) Act, 1999”.

    It may be a clerical error that the Deputy Registrar refers the statute as GI of Goods (Registration & Procedure) Act instead of GI of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act. However, the ‘bare assertion fallacy’ in maintaining a position on legislative incompetency for ‘suo motu’ action is debatable.

    Sub-section (4) of Section 27 of GI Act says – The tribunal, of its own motion,may, after giving notice in the prescribed manner to the parties concerned and after giving them an opportunity of being heard, make any order referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2).

    It is very clear from the above that the tribunal (Appellate Board or Registrar) can proceed on its own volition for cancellation or rectification of GI Register. To the best of my understanding, this is what we mean by ‘suo motu’ power.

    Sub-section (1) of section 27 says – “On application made in the prescribed manner to the Appellate Board or to the Registrar by any person aggrieved, the tribunal may make such order as it may think fit for cancelling or varying the registration of a geographical indication or authorised user on the ground of any contravention, or failure to observe the condition entered on the register in relation thereto.”

    Sub-section (2) of Section 27 says “Any person aggrieved by the absence or omission from the register of any entry, or by any entry made in the register without sufficient cause, or by any entry wrongly remaining on the register, or by any error or defect in any entry in the register, may apply in the prescribed manner to the Appellate Board or to the Registrar, and the tribunal may make such order for making, expunging or varying the entry as it may think fit.”

    The contents of IPAB reply is debatable.

    Reply

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