India: Poor Man’s Intellectual Property Is Hijacked 28/09/2015 by Intellectual Property Watch 5 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors. By R.S. Praveen Raj, Senior Scientist, CSIR-NIIST Geographical Indications (GI) is an intellectual property right (IPR), which identifies “goods” as originating in a certain region where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Kashmir Pashmina, Darjeeling tea and Kancheepuram silk have all been granted GIs. The best internationally known examples of geographical indications are those used for wines and spirits. For instance, the geographical indication Champagne is used to indicate that a special kind of sparkling wine originates in the Champagne region of France. In the same way, Cognac is used for brandy from the French region around the town of Cognac. However, geographical indications are also used for products other than wines and spirits, such as tobacco from Cuba, or for cheeses such as Roquefort. They may also be used for industrial products, as Sheffield is for steel. GIs focus on the triple relationship between a product, its special qualities and geographical territory of origin. GI serves as a notice to the customer that the product comes from a particular geographical region. Quite often, Geographical appellation may imply a certain quality, which the customer may be looking for. In India, GI is often termed as the poor man’s IP because most of the applicants for GIs are farmers, artisans and craftsmen from the lower economic strata or an organization representing them. Hence, GI is considered as a collective community right. Indian Parliament passed the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act in 1999 to afford legal protection to the GIs in India. ‘Goods’ means any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry, and includes food stuff. Food stuff is covered, but only if it is any of the following — agricultural goods, natural goods, manufactured goods, goods of handicraft or goods of industry. The legislative intent of GI statute is protecting the interest of the genuine producers from the specified geographical region. Attaching a GI tag also helps in promoting the sale of goods in the international market. It is a healthy trend that the awareness on GI is on the rise in our country. However, the misuse of GI legislation also is rampant. Recent past has witnessed many instances of inappropriate GI Registrations. Tirupati laddu The most popular news is the GI tag secured by Tirumala Thiruppathi Devasthanams (TTD) for its famous ‘Tirupati Laddu’. TTD, the trustees of world’s richest temple on Tirumala Hills claimed that the GI registration would help them in harnessing the black-marketing of laddus by some vendors in the temple town, who sell fake laddus under the name of ‘Tirupati laddu’. TTD’s stand is that GI tag to Tirupati laddu would help them to curb all these problems as violators will be subjected to punishment under GI laws. TTD’s GI application says that the laddu derives its sanctity, reputation and uniqueness from its being offered as naivedyam (offering) to the Lord. The fundamental question arising here is ‘whether sanctity is a GI attribute?’ The GI grant to Tiruppathi laddu is clearly an indication of commercialization of faith. Mixing IPR with religion will have serious consequences in the future and it hurts the religious sentiments. Also, TTD is the sole producer of Tirupati laddu and sole beneficiary of its sales. It is totally wrong to extend GI protection to the monopoly held by TTD, as GIs are meant to protect collective community rights. A similar attempt by Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), to get GI status for gas pumped from its Krishna-Godavari (KG) fields and petroleum products made at its Jamnagar refinery, was however unsuccessful. Like Tirupati Laddu, the application was filed by a powerful enterprise to safeguard its commercial interests. The four Jamnagar applications were advertised in the Geographical Indications Journal, the official journal of the GI Registry, inviting possible objections to the products being registered for GIs, according to procedure. Subsequently, the GI Registry received four oppositions filed by three lawyers and one Indian legal academic based in London, against the applications. Although the application was subsequently abandoned by RIL, the fact that such an application was allowed to proceed till the stage of advertisement goes on to show the lax standards of the examination process of the GI Registry which in turn may have grave implications for the future of GI governance in India. Hyderabadi Haleem The GI granted to Tirupati laddu continues to be an inspiration for many other meaningless GI’s. Hyderabad Haleem, a popular dish made predominantly during Ramzan has obtained GI registration. GI owners claim that the haleem makers outside Hyderabad will not be able to sell their product as Hyderabad Haleem and the ones that are made within the city, will be subjected to strict quality standards. Now the public is under the impression that any dish is eligible for GI. GI Registration in India is more like the promotion spree of populism. And now the politicians from respective states would line up for supporting their GI Claim for dishes named after some place in their state. Tomorrow, there may be many meaningless GIs like chicken chettinadu, Malabar chicken etc. If we allow this practice, the access to freshly prepared food will become a thing of the past. We will have to be satisfied with malabar chicken available in packets, when you order it in a restaurant. (Like packaged drinking water, Coca Cola, Pepsi etc.). How many of our restaurant owners would dare to fight a legal battle against powerful money mafia holding the GI certificate? Suppose if they dare to do that, then our courts will be flooded with GI cases. It is shocking to observe that the GI claims in the case of RIL went up to the stage of acceptance and the other one in respect of Tirupati laddu to the extent of registration. These days, anything named after a place is given a GI tag and that position is incorrect. Ultimately, the purpose of GI is not to create monopoly. Subjugating the laws of the land to monopoly practices is very dangerous. IPRs with reasonable restrictions are allowed only because it is essential for the industrial growth of the country. Government authorities should show due diligence and extreme caution in governing IPR laws. Letting IPRs to take the form of monopoly is detrimental to the interests of a democratic nation. R.S. Praveen Raj is a former Indian patent examiner and social activist. Currently, he is working as Senior Scientist in India’s premier research organisation CSIR. He played a key role in devising IPR Policy of Kerala 2008, which moots a nuanced approach for protection of traditional knowledge. He also campaigns against misuse of IP laws for Commercialisation of religious faith in India. 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