The ‘Nationalization’ of Geographical Indications in India


I spent the better part of this morning browsing through the registration details of 100 G.I applications (Applications nos. 100 to 200) at various stages of examination and registration before the G.I.Registry. Of these 100 G.I. Applications, a surprising total of 57 applications, i.e. 57% of the applications, were filed by either the Central Government or a State Government through different authorities, statutory and executive. The list of these applications can be accessed over here and here. I was always under the presumption that G.I. application would be filed by artisan or farming communities. Image from here.
As per the Geographical Indications Act, 1999Any association of persons or producers or any organization or authority established by or under any law for the time being in force representing the interest of the producers of the concerned goods” may file an application for registration of a GI. This is in keeping with the overall objective of the G.I. Act, which is to protect the identity of a particular good that has properties which are attributable to a particular region or which are manufactured in a particular region. In my opinion the G.I. Act was meant to help communities to protect the brand value of their goods or foodstuff which had acquired a reputation over several centuries. The G.I. Act was thus meant to empower communities across India, whether traditional or modern. It is thus surprising when you realize that 57% of all applications are being filed by the State and Central Governments. 
For instance the G.I. application for ‘basmati’ has been filed by the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) which is a government body and not an association of farmers or mill owners. Interestingly, APEDA has been authorized by an Act of Parliament (available over here) to protect the IP rights of ‘special products’ in India or outside India. The relevant provision of the legislation reads as follows: 
Without prejudice to any law for the time being in force, it shall be the duty of the Authority to undertake, by such measures as may be prescribed by the Central Government for registration and protection of the Intellectual Property rights in respect of Special products in India or outside India. Explanation.¯ For the purpose of this section “Intellectual Property” means any right to intangible property, namely, trademarks, designs, patents, geographical indications or any other similar intangible property, under any law for the time being in force.’ 
APEDA has invoked its powers under this provision to protect ‘Basmati’ in India and abroad. In essence, Parliament has ‘nationalized’ the ‘basmati’ mark which was otherwise the property of private farmers. I’m not sure of the terms of use that have been authorized by APEDA but I just hope that ‘basmati’ farmers, who are the real stakeholders, have adequate say in the manner in which APEDA controls the use of the word ‘basmati’. Image left: Basmati, from here.
Moving on to some of the other instances, I have to say that most of these registrations appear to be rather odd. For example the G.I. Application (No. 169) for the famous ‘Kolhapuri Chappals’ which is usually manufactured in the Kolhapur District of Maharashtra has been filed by the Central Leather Research Institute (a part of CSIR) located in Chennai i.e. at least a thousand kilometres from Maharashtra. The ‘Kolhapuri Chappals’ are really famous because of the efforts of traditional artisans over the years. Why then is CSIR filing a GI Application for this particular G.I.? Why aren’t the artisans of Kolhapur filing this application in the name of their own association? Image right: ‘Kolhapuri Chappals’ from here.
Similarly the Export Commissioner of the Uttar Pradesh Government has filed at least half a dozen G.I. applications for various GIs such as ‘Firozabad Glass’, Kannauj Perfume, Kanpur Saddlery, Moradabad Metal Craft, Varanasi Glass Beads, Khurja Pottery, Saharanpur Wood Craft. Again, why aren’t the artisans forming communities to register and control the use of their G.Is? 
Even stranger, are the instances of Universities filing G.I. Applications. For instance the Kerala Agricultural University has filed a G.I. application for ‘Central Travancore Jaggery’. The same was registered by the G.I. Registry. Similarly the Junagadh University in Gujarat has successfully managed to register the ‘Gir Kesar Mango’ as a G.I. Yet another example from Gujarat is ‘Bhalia Wheat’ which has been registered by the Anand Agricultural University. I can understand universities filing for patents but why are these universities filing for G.Is? Are they producing and marketing mangos and wheat? 
Another variety of registrations is joint registrations by a University and an association of farmers or artisans. The ‘Wayanad Jeerakasala Rice’ has been registered as a GI in a joint application by the Kerala Agricultural University and the Wayanad Jilla Sugandha Nellulpadaka Karshaka Samithi. Similarly the Tangaliya Shawl has been registered jointly by the Tangaliya Hastkala Association, the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and the Ministry of Textiles. Why are artisan associations sharing their valuable IPRs with these universities and the government? It is not as if Universities can add value to the ‘brand-value’. At the most they can add to the yield or productivity of a certain product. 
Yet another oddity in these G.I. applications is when the Central Government starts registering G.I. for products across India. For instance the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, Government of India sitting in New Delhi has been filing and granted registrations for the following G.I.s: Sankheda Furniture (Gujarat), Agates of Cambay (Gujarat), Datia and Tikamgarh Bell Metal Ware (Madhya Pradesh), Kutch Embroidery (Gujarat). Both Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh must be at least 700-1000 kilometres away from New Delhi. How do artisan groups in these states access the Development Commissioner sitting in New Delhi? 
The issue of State Governments registering G.Is in their own names seems to be quite wide-spread and includes states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, West Bengal. Of the Central Government authorities it appears that the Ministry of Textiles, the Coffee Board and Spices Board both of which function under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce take the lead for the most number of G.I. applications filed in their own names. (Please note that the sample size was limited to 100). I’m sure that this post scratches only the surface of the issue. I hope that somebody is willing to fund some more serious research into the quality of G.I. registrations and whether the artists and farmers have been given their due by the Central and State Governments who seem to own a majority of the G.I.s.
Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

7 comments.

  1. AvatarA Simple Equation

    A wonderful article! You have brought to light a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed.

    For instance, Section 24 of the GI Act states that “Geographical indication shall not be the subject matter of assignment, transmission, licensing, pledg, mortgage or any such other agreement”. I am curious to know how the government will meet the interests of local artisans, farmers and workers and reward them accordingly. The government is likely to continue renewing the GI’s (10 years lifetime) and considering that GIs cannot be assigned or transferred, I do not see the local talent getting its fair share of the profits or accolades. What are the remaining courses of action available? Appellate Board? Mutual Agreements?

    All in all a great read!

    Reply
  2. AvatarPrashant Reddy

    @ Simple Equation:

    Thank you for the comment. You are right about Section 24 – I’m yet to figure out how exactly the benefits are going to flow to the local communities if the babus are going to control the use of these marks. I’ll try and dig out more information if possible.

    Cheers,
    Prashant

    Reply
  3. AvatarK MUTHU SELVAM

    Under section 18(4) of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, the National Biodiversity Authority of India, on behalf of Central Government, is empowered to take any measures necessary to OPPOSE the grant of intellectual property rights in any country outside India on any biological resource obtained from India or knowledge associated with such biological resource which is derived from India.

    The Biological Diversity Act does not define or clarify what is Intellectual property or What are all Intellectual property falling under section 18 (4).

    Unlike the above act, the section 10A of The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Act, 2009 clearly specify the duty of the APEDA to REGISTER or PROTECT the Intellectual Property Rights in respect of special products in India and outside India. Further, it clarify what else are coming under the Intellectual Property Rights.

    APEDA acted against the registration of Ponni rice in Malaysia Trade Mark Registry under the above section 10 A. Before the introduction of Section 10A, APEDA was not empowered to act in such manner. But, the Biological Diversity Act was passed even prior to the 10A amendment.

    It is relevant to recall an year old trade mark dispute PONNI rice in Malaysia Trade Mark Registry. Ponni rice was first developed by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore (TNAU) in 1980’s. It is being cultivated in Cauvery river basin. Characteristics features of ponni rice can not be obtained if it is cultivated other than Cauvery river basin. Surely, it is eligible for GI tag.

    While thing being so, why not the University eligibility to be an applicant in such case?

    Further, had ponni been awarded GI tag, and the right is being violated by the Malaysian company, whether it would be the duty of APEDA or the NBA to act against such move?

    Here interestingly, both the acts have no overriding effect.

    I totally agree with your contention that GI has been, somewhat nationalized and the real benefits are in the hand of the real beneficiary. It is the common thought on planning and its execution in India that the Central Government drafts a plan (ICE CREAM) in New Delhi and while execution, the people far away from New Delhi avails its benefits in the form of stick/cone not ice cream.

    K. MUTHU SELVAM
    IP ADVOCATE

    Reply
  4. AvatarMeghna

    After reading your article, I just remembered an incident. I was in a town called kondapalli near vijayawada, andhra pradesh, which is famous for its kondapalli toys. When the shop keepers got to know I was an IP lawyer they asked me to file a patent for their toys. what they didnt know was that those toys were already protected. The other issue I came across was that even though they knew that these toys could get protection, they did not know how to reap the benefits of the protection and were asking me what could they do with that protection. So, not touching the legal aspect mentioned in your article, I feel that the people are unaware about GI and its benefits and they need someone who can educate them about it. They are willing to do the work, but they just need someone to guide them.

    Meghna

    Reply
  5. AvatarAnonymous

    MISSING GIs OF kerala

    after counting kerala GIs it is found that TWO GIs are missing in the state list of Kerala i.e., monsooned malabar robusta coffee and monsooned malabar arabicca coffee.

    Reply
  6. AvatarAnonymous

    For a comparison between the role of the State for the protection of GIs in India and in France/Europe, please see Marie-Vivien, D., “The role of the State in the protection of Geographical Indications: from disengagement in France/Europe to significant involvement in India”, The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 2010, 13, 2, pp. 121-147.

    Reply
  7. AvatarAnonymous

    The case of the institution of the GI for the Kanchipuram sari in Tamil Nadu has been discussed in an Occasional Paper of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library title “Duplicating the Local: GI and the Politics of Place in South India”, NS 29. It discusses how labels of’ ownership’ and ‘authenticity’ complicate the situation for the many stakeholders on the ground.

    Reply

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