P.S. Initial version of this post reported that the Applicant used his official notepad during his correspondence with the Registry. It is clarified that the order of the G.I Registry stated that the Applicant mentioned his official status which carried the official emblem of CSIR in various communications addressed to the Registry. The post has been appropriately modified.
The Tirupati laddu rectification application before the G.I Registry is a textbook example of an adversarial system of adjudication. The NIIST-CSIR Scientist, R.S. Praveen Raj who instituted the rectification proceedings failed to turn up for the hearing and this left the huge burden of disproving the validity of GI tag undischarged. As expected, the Asst. Registrar of G.I Chinnaraja G. Naidu on July 30, 2012 dismissed the rectification application without much effort. The order further imposed a fine of Rs. 10,000/- on the Applicant for his iniquitous attitude in the matter. Copy of the order is available here.
The Asst. Registrar referring to the well-established principle on burden of proof held that the onus was on the Applicant to disprove the validity of registration. Taking support from Section 103 of the Evidence Act dealing with ‘Onus of Proof’, the order states that ‘it is the bounden duty of the rectification applicant to prove his pleadings with supportive evidence. The rectification applicant failed to turn up for hearing and never took any effort to prove the case’. In light of this, it was a mere formality for the Registry to dismiss Applicant’s claims. Below is a summary of Registry’s findings on merits of the case:
(a) Whether the grant of GI tag to a single producer (i.e. the TTD) is ultra vires Sections 11(1) read with Rules 32(5), 32(6)(a) and (f)?
According to Section 11(1) only ‘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’ can seek registration of GI in relation to goods. The Applicant alleged that the grant of registration to TTD (which is the sole producer and beneficiary of manufacturing the laddu) would defeat the purpose of GI which provides for collective community rights to protect group of producers. The order dispelled the claim of single producer by referring to Section 13(2) of the General Clauses Act, 1897, and held that the word ‘producers’ in Section 11(1) also includes its singular form. In this regard, it took support of an instance in EU where a single producer of breads was accorded G.I protection. Furthermore, the order stated that all person involved in the manufacturing of the laddu are deemed as producers and TTD represents the interests of such persons.
(b) Whether the grant of GI tag is likely to deceive or cause confusion among consumers thereby violating Section 9(a)?
The order not only dismissed the allegations of confusion or deception among registered proprietors but also defended the grant for indicating the genuineness of the product. The order further elaborates that the legislative intent ‘is to protect the interest of the producer and general public from imitation, as the Tirupathi laddu is having a well known reputation and the producer is having every right to fence the product by getting all types of eligible Intellectual property protection.’
(c) Whether the grant is likely to hurt religious susceptibilities of communities in India thereby violating Section 9(d)?
Contrary to the Applicant’s allegations, the order justified the registration stating that ‘GI tag granted to religion related product never hurt the religious sentiments, at the same time GI protect the devotees against non-genuine products and on the other hand facilitates the growth and prosperity of the society.’
(d) Whether the product in question qualifies as ‘goods’ within the definition under Section 2(f)?
Section 2(f) defines ‘goods’ as ‘any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry and includes food stuff.’ The Applicant averred that the laddu does not fit the description of ‘goods’ as it is a sacred offering not akin to ‘industrial goods’. The order finds this contention self-contradictory as the Applicant described laddu as naivedyam to the deity.
(e) Whether the grant of GI violates Articles 25, 26 and 300A of the Indian Constitution?
The Applicant stated that the grant would allow private appropriation of religious symbol and any infringement action against non-Hindu would likely to result in communal disharmony. Furthermore, it was stated that revocation of GI in the future would be problematic in the future and therefore mixing religion with IPR will have serious consequences. The order blindly dismisses the claims observing that ‘the Constitutional law provisions and the Precedents mentioned by the rectification applicant is no way assist him and not relevant to the instant rectification proceedings.’
Iniquitous Rectification Plea
The Registry agreed with Respondent’s objections on maintainability of the rectification application. As per Section 27(1) of the G.I. Act, only a ‘person aggrieved’ can institute rectification proceedings. The order stated that the Applicant failed to exhibit any harm occurred due to the registration and that he failed to prove his locus standi in the issue. In pertinent part, the order stated that:
From the averments of the instant application it is apparent that the rectification applicant is a third party, working with NIIST-Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and not even involved in the same trade or manufacturing the similar GI product. The applicant is also residing at Thiruvanathapuram (Kerala) and not connects the particular geographical area of the Tirupathi Tirumala – Chitoor District (Andhra Pradesh). The rectification applicant ‘lacks standing’ in proving his locus standi in the registered GI.
The Registry imposed a fine of Rs.10,000/- as per Rule 89 on the Applicant for creating a false impression of CSIR’s involvement in the matter. In this regard, the order noted that the Applicant ‘in all his communications addressed to this Registry mentioned his official status and carrying the official emblem of CSIR and his communication address is also mentioned as Scientist, NIIST-CSIR Thiruvanthapuram‘. Calling this iniquitous the order concludes that the Applicant filed the application merely for public attention. The order states:
The rectification applicant was granted sufficient opportunity of hearing, but the applicant never turned up for hearing and wasted the precious time of the tribunal by filing frivolous, frolicsome and playful application and misused his official status and emblem of his employer (NIIST-CSIR) for shameful publicity. This shows the reckless, irresponsible, immature attitude of the rectification applicant.
Diluting Public Interest
Given that the proceedings are held before the very institution which granted the G.I status, it is all the more important for the Applicant to make a stronger case to overpower heavy institutional bias. Instead, the reprehensible conduct of the Applicant, irrespective of his true intentions, in the matter has harmed public interest. Incidents such as this could greatly dilute the potency of public spirited citizenry. Don’t start the fire if you can’t stand the heat!