Geographical Indications and India

Author: Rahul Patil

How many times have you bought sparkling wine and asked the seller to give you ‘champagne’? And how many times has the seller said, “This is the best champagne in India”? I bet this is nothing new to those who have actually ever bought sparkling wine.

But trust me, this cannot get weirder.

Few in our country know that Champagne is actually a region in France. So are Cognac, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Wines from these regions are identified by the names of the places of origin. So when you see sparkling wine by say, Sula, please refrain from calling it ‘Indian Champagne’.

These wine producers got their wine to be called by the region name by obtaining ‘geographical indication’. Geographical indication, or GI, is a place name used to identify the origin and quality, reputation or other characteristics of products. This is applicable to many categories of products like coffee, tea, cardamom and any product which has unique characteristics obtainable from only a specific region. The origin of GIs lies with the individual governments who were always trying to protect the trade names and trademarks used with respect to food products originating from regions in their countries. In the absence of any legal protection, brands from other regions might misuse the reputation and obtain benefits from it. Originating in Europe, the practice of protecting the trade name of regional produce has spread all over the world.

Though GI is not exactly ‘intellectual’ property, it falls under intellectual property rights and is governed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS provides a two-level protection:

1. Article 22: “Protection of Geographical Indications”

2. Article 23: “Additional protection of Geographical Indications for Wines & Spirits”

However, this kind of GI protection is in controversy as Article 22 allows a producer not belonging to the region to use the GI as long as the true origin of the product is mentioned on the label. This allows the producer to free-ride on the region’s reputation.

Of late, India too is becoming aggressive in obtaining GI for its regional produce. India has laid down the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 and Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Rules, 2002. India has laid down these acts and rules in line with its obligations under TRIPS which came into force with effect from 15 September 2003. However, unlike TRIPS, the GI Act of India does not restrict to wines and spirits, but gives the power of discretion to the government to decide which products should be given higher priority. The flip side of this is that Article 23 then does not protect the wines and spirits of Indian origins specifically, leaving these products vulnerable to international misappropriation.

To apply for a GI, an application is to be made in writing to the Registrar of Geographical Indications. The applications include following requirements which need to be specified:

  • Class of goods
  • Territory
  • Particulars of appearance
  • Particulars of procedure
  • An affidavit of how the applicant claims to represent interest in the geographical indication
  • Standard benchmark or other characteristics
  • Particulars of special characteristics
  • Textual description of proposed boundary
  • Growth attributes in relation to GI
  • Certified copies of the map of territory
  • Special human skills involved
  • Number of procedures
  • Particulars of inspection structures

While GI is a lesser know domain of IPR, India has silently been obtaining a lot of these. As of 2009, around 65 GIs had been registered with the GI registry. Some of them are listed below:

  • Darjeeling Tea
  • Chanderi sarees
  • Kancheepuram silk
  • Kashmir Pashmina
  • Kondapalli toys
  • Mysore Agarbattis
  • Muga Silk
  • Madhubani paintings
  • Malabar pepper
  • Alleppey Green Cardamom
  • Cora Cotton
  • Allahabad Surkha
  • Nakshi Kantha
  • Monsooned Malabar Coffee
  • Nilgiris tea

Of late the vintners in Nashik have also obtained GI for wine produced in the Nashik region. This will be called ‘Nashik Valley Wine’. There was also an application for ‘Dindori Wines’, a small region within the Nashik district, however, the authorities found it to be too restrictive and amended it to be included under Nashik Valley Wines.

From all this, we can see that India is catching up fast on the practice of IPRs, not only in patents, copyrights and trademarks, but also lesser known domains like geographical indications. The rising awareness of this even among farmers is a good sign that India will no longer be left behind. With the variety of natural resources and wealth of original Indian products, GIs will help us lead the way in terms of branding and protecting our products in the international market.




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