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What exactly are geographical indications?

By Latha Nair
December 21, 2018 17:34 IST
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The acid test for a GI product, therefore, is whether the consumers perceive it to originate from a certain geography and attribute the qualities, characteristics or reputation to that region.
Latha Nair, partner at K&S Partners, examines what constitutes a GI tag and what the gaps in the Indian GI law are.

Recent conversations around geographical indication have involved cases such as a GI tag on Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the Coffee Board applying for GI to protect Araku coffee, and the tussle between Odisha and West Bengal over the rosogolla. Read on to find out all about it.


What exactly are geographical indications? Who can apply for a GI mark/status?

Geographical indications (GIs) are a form of intellectual property rights (IPRs).

While other forms of IPRs are private in nature, GI rights are community rights.

A GI indicates a product to originate from a geographical region or a territory or locality therein where the quality, characteristics or reputation of such a product can be essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

In India, any association of persons or producers or a body established under any law can apply for a GI tag if such an applicant represents the interests of producers of the goods concerned.

What are the steps involved in a product getting a GI mark?

Ideally, some important pre- and post-registration steps must be followed by all applicants.

In the pre-registration stage, the applicant must get all the producers together, reach a consensus on the specification and area of production, put together an inspection system and establish mechanisms for financing protection, marketing and enforcement of the GI.

After completing these steps, apply for registration.

Once registered, enforce the rights through market inspections, addressing fakes, taking offenders to task and publicising the product as well as the enforcement efforts.

A successful GI is one that is enforced and marketed well. Registration is just one small step in protecting a GI tag.

When were the laws governing GI mark last amended or modified?

Prior to 2003, while unregistered GIs could be enforced through passing-off actions in India, GIs could be registered as certification marks.

The current GI statute, Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999, was notified in 2003.

There has been no amendment to the same. Over 300 GIs are registered under this Act.

Can recipes be given GIs? Do GI laws in India for recipes work the way Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) mark work in Europe?

Any product can be given a GI tag if it meets the parameters, namely quality, characteristic and reputation that are essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

While GIs are rooted in geography, recipes indicate steps in preparing a foodstuff and can be executed anywhere irrespective of geography.

Mere recipes for dishes must be distinguished from foodstuffs that are rooted in geography and are GIs.

For instance, while vada pav or sandesh are dishes made from recipes, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a foodstuff that is a GI.

The acid test for a GI product, therefore, is whether the consumers perceive it to originate from a certain geography and attribute the qualities, characteristics or reputation to that region.

The European regulations on TSG are for traditional recipes based on quality and consistency.

These are distinguished from GIs which are origin-based. On the other hand, India has protected many traditional recipes (eg, rosogolla) as GIs.

Is there any role of GI in the fashion industry, if at all?

India is a country that has a versatile textile craft industry.

The fashion industry can play a significant role in promoting GIs by creatively employing multitudes of origin-based textile crafts in their work.

However, without any quality control measures under the present statute, there is a high potential for misuse of these names in the fashion industry.

What are the gaps in India’s GI laws?

GIs, if well-protected, can be the powerhouse for rural development.

The current statute on GIs lack provisions on quality control, which is the touchstone of any GI protection.

Lack of quality control and enforcement would steadily undermine the trust and credibility of consumers on GI-branded products.

The success of a couple of famous Indian GIs is attributable to the proactive and sustained enforcement strategy and quality control.

Any policy on GI law must equally favour the consumer and producer. Unless the producer maintains the quality and consistency of the product by following and enforcing manufacturing regulations, the consumer will not be able to trust a GI tag.

The producer body must address fakes in the market regularly and publicise such enforcement to enhance consumer credibility.

It must also have a mechanism to fund all such enforcement.

Currently, many GI registrations are mere paper tigers with no funds or infrastructure to address fakes.

Establishing quality control mechanisms and funding should not be an after-thought, but an essential pre-registration step.

The recent reports on Kalamkari fakes, made with chemical dyes, and Kota Doria, woven with synthetic yarn, are stark reminders beckoning sturdy quality control provisions.

A separate law to protect traditional recipes could prevent rosogolla-like wars.

In this context, it is a good idea for India to emulate the European model.

Photograph: PTI Photo

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