Seeking GI Protection For Feni, An Indian Brew With A Strong WhiffPublished on 9 April 2008 @ 2:27 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By Frederick Noronha for Intellectual Property Watch
GOA, INDIA – Feni, liquor distilled from cashew apple, is a traditional drink from a small state. Centuries after it was first used in its native Goa, the alcohol is seeking to branch into new markets and attract more drinkers. Officials here believe the geographical indication route could hold promise, an effort that appears to reflect an awakening in India of the economic possibilities in exclusive intellectual property rights.
A geographical indication (GI) gives exclusive right to a region (town, province or country) to use a name for a product with certain characteristics that corresponds to their specific location. GIs are currently the focus of some debate at the high-level negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
Goa is a 3,700-square kilometre former Portuguese colony on the west coast of India. Less than five centuries ago, the Portuguese brought in the cashew plant here from Brazil.
Today, Goa is the only known place that uses the low-value cashew apple to churn out a strong-flavoured, unique-tasting alcoholic brew. Cashew apple nectar is fermented, then heated in a cauldron and the condensation collected.
Warwick University principal investigator Dwijen Rangnekar leads a project on Localising Economic Control through GIs. In Goa, they are working on Feni.
He explains: “As evident from products like champagne, Scotch whiskey and tequila, GIs focus on the triple relationship between a product, its special qualities and the geographical territory of origin.”
Proponents of GIs argue that it can act as a “tool for development,” a means of promoting rural development, and even a tool to gain market access.
Likewise, GIs can preserve local know-how and natural resources – thus preventing the standardisation of food, contributing to social cohesion, and playing a positive role on local and national identity.
GIs in India
Rangnekar said geographical indications are a recent intellectual property right, introduced by the 1994 WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In December 1999, the Indian Parliament passed the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act. GIs are administered by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks who is also the Registrar of Geographical Indications, in Chennai, South India.
Under Indian law, a GI originates from a definite geographical territory and can be used to identify agricultural, natural or manufactured goods. Manufactured goods should be produced or processed or prepared in that territory. Any GI-designated product should have a special quality or reputation or other characteristics.
“So far some 61 products have come up to claim GIs in India,” India’s Director of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion T C James told Intellectual Property Watch.
He said these include the famed Darjeeling tea, traditional textile items from different parts of India, and a number of agricultural products that were known to come from particular regions.
India’s government has put out a list of “examples of possible Indian geographical indications,” including Basmati rice, the Kanchipuram silk saree, the Alphonso mango from coastal western India, the Nagpur orange, traditional leather-based footwear Kolhapuri chappal, and savoury snacks like the Bikaneri Bhujia and Agra Petha.
Any association of persons, producers, organisation or authority can apply for a GI in India. The applicant must represent the interest of producers. Once granted, GIs are valid for 10 years, and then need renewal. Registration is seen as “affording better legal protection to facilitate an action for infringement,” a background paper from the University of Warwick argued.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) attests that geographical indications are “understood by consumers to denote the origin and the quality of products.”
Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operators, says WIPO.
Challenges for Feni Supporters
But more than the GI issue, in Goa, Feni is fighting a battle for survival on economic and other grounds. It faces sharp competition from other factory-crafted liquors, problems of adulteration, and the poor price its small-time distiller gets for it.
“There was nobody to lay down standards, and nobody to test the standards” in the case of Feni, said Air Commander (Retd) P K Pinto of the Goa Chambers of Commerce and Industry. GCCI has played a key role in lobbying since 2001 for a GI for Feni.
One of the biggest problems is Feni’s classification as a “country liquor” by the official Excise authorities. This means it cannot be legally exported to other states of India, placing the odds against it, especially in times of growing market competition from other liquors.
Feni has long been considered a “poor man’s” drink, though now tourists and visitors have taken to it. The question remains whether GIs will come to the rescue of such products. Tiny Goa is still struggling to get the application process right.
Frederick Noronha may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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