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17 November 2008
The specific environmental or natural qualities of a geographical area or the special skills of its native people can give products originating from that source certain unique characteristics. A geographical indication acts as a signalling device that allows producers in those areas to differentiate their goods from the goods of their competitors and cultivate a reputation and goodwill around their products in order to attract a premium price.
So far 85 geographical indications have been registered in India and the number is growing. Kashmiri Pashmina and Kani shawls are the latest products to be afforded geographical indication status. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights provides member countries with the flexibility to develop their own geographical indication protection systems. The Indian Geographical Indications of Goods Act 1999 makes use of this flexibility and ensures that India complies with the minimum standards of protection.
Registering a geographical indication in India involves:
BASMATI continues to occupy centre stage in the geographical indication protection arena due to its strategic importance to India’s agricultural economy and the large number of foreign exporters. India is the largest global producer and exporter of basmati rice. Its annual production is approximately 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes, of which approximately two-thirds are exported.
The long-grained rice is grown in the north western plains of Punjab, in both Indian and Pakistani soil, as well as in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. However, efforts to register BASMATI as a geographical indication have met with multiple hurdles. Despite being one of the first applications for geographical indication recognition in India, BASMATI is yet to acquire geographical indication status. The initial difficulty came with selecting which variety to register, since scientists had developed different varieties of the aromatic rice which do not necessarily have the parental line of traditional basmati. Once this was settled, the organizations applying for geographical indication registration were found not to be adequately representing the interests of farmers and exporters. Most recently, the Geographical Indications Registry refused a request from the Haryana-based Heritage Foundation, citing inadequacies and flaws in the application.
Since Pakistan had asserted equal claims to BASMATI as a geographical indication, both countries decided to embark on a joint registration. Subsequently, Pakistan declined to participate in the application. In addition, Pakistan’s Trademarks Registry accepted the application of the Lahore-based Basmati Growers Association to register BASMATI as a geographical indication and trademark. Thereafter, the Indian government enlisted the Agricultural and Processed Food Product Export Development Authority (APEDA) to take India’s registration process forward. APEDA promotes the export of agricultural and associated products. An ordinance shall be promulgated to effect an amendment to the APEDA Act which will allow the protection procedure to be initiated in India and abroad.
For the last decade APEDA has been protecting basmati rice in foreign legal battles. According to a news report, APEDA spends Rs30 million to Rs40 million a year on protecting the BASMATI geographical indication against IP rights violations across the world. Once it has filed and obtained registration in the Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai, the government will commence action to register BASMATI in all major global export markets. Since there is no Geographical Indications Act in Pakistan, BASMATI cannot be protected there as a geographical indication and India has already filed an appeal against its registration as a trademark. In order to protect a geographical indication under the Geographical Indications Act, it must be registered. According to Section 20 of the act, no one can institute proceedings to prevent or recover damages for infringement of an unregistered geographical indication.
The commercial potential of a geographical indication such as BASMATI is significant due to its export market and its popularity in international markets. Once it has been successfully registered in India, it will be protected in various other jurisdictions.
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