On September 4, the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM) under the aegis of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, launched a social media campaign to promote Geographical Indications (GIs) with the hashtag #LetsTalkIP. The initiative, designed to make more people aware about the importance of Intellectual property rights.
The press release says that GIs are of utmost importance to the country as they are an integral part of India’s rich culture and collective intellectual heritage and that their promotion is in line with the Government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign.
It adds that it is an area of strength and optimism for India as the “GI tag” has accorded protection to several handmade and manufactured products, especially in the informal sector.
CIPAM proposes to talk about interesting facts and stories on GIs using social media.
In the recent past, the government had launched similar initiatives such as #IWearHandloom and #CottonIsCool to promote and revive traditional hand-woven textiles.
What is Geographical Indication?
A Geographical Indication, or a GI, is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Such a name conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness which is essentiallyattributable to its origin in that defined geographical locality.
Darjeeling tea became the first GI tagged product in India. Mahabaleshwar Strawberry, Blue Pottery of Jaipur, Banarasi Sarees and Tirupati Laddus are some of the other GIs in India.
Why GI should be protected in India?
- India is a rich storehouse of goods with reputation for quality which can be presented to their geographical origin or place of manufacture
- Need to protect Indian Treasures.
- Promotes Brand building.
- The economic potential of these goods is enormous.
- To prevent GI goods becoming generic.
- Need for a rule based system that is open, fair and provides for an enforcement mechanism.
Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999
Protection of Geographical Indication (GI) has, over the years, emerged as one of the most contentious IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) issues in the realm of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act) is a sui generis Act of the Parliament of India for protection of geographical indications in India. Around 295 names registered with the Geographical Indications Registry.
The Geographical Indications Registry is located at Chennai. This Act is administered by the Registrar of Geographical Indications i.e Controller General of Patents and Designs. The registration and administration have been envisaged to be discharged by the Geographical Indications Registry under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection), Act, 1999.
Under this act, Goods under Agricultural, Natural, Goods of Handicrafts, Industry, Manufactured goods, Food Stuffs categories can be registered.
- India, as a member of the World Trade Organization(WTO), enacted the Act to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
- The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users are allowed to use the popular product name.
- An application for registration must be madebefore the Registrar of Geographical Indications by any association of persons or producers or any organization or authority established by or under any law for the time being in force representing the interest of the producers of the concerned goods.
- A GI is registered for an initial period of ten years, which may be renewed from time to time.
- Registration of a GI gives its owner and the authorised users the exclusive right to use the indications on the good in which it is registered.
- Further, registration gives right to institution of suit against infringement and recovery of damages for such infringement.
- The registration cannot be transferred, mortgaged, assigned or licensed, except in case of inheritance of the mark upon death of an authorised user.
Can GI boost rural development?
Our rural artisans possess unique skills and knowledge of traditional practices and methods, passed down from generation to generation, which need to be protected and promoted. Certain GI products can benefit the rural economy in remote areas, by supplementing the incomes of artisans, farmers, weavers and craftsmen.
The proposed campaign is certainly heartening because goods branded as GIs can be made indigenously by local communities independently and in a self-sustaining manner. And India, with its rich cultural heritage and diversity, has GIs.
- GIs and Industry: Many registered and potential GIs of India are in the Micro and SME sector. GI protection enables them to develop their market and increase returns
- GIs and Tourism: GIs are unique products coming from demarcated areas. Cultivation or manufacturing process itself can attract tourists. Handicrafts and handlooms with special characteristics are always attractive to tourists. Regions can provide attract tourists to taste the special GI foods or drinks or buy the unique products with discounts
It is an added advantage that if protected the correct way, GIs can promote rural development in a significant manner and could be fitted in as the most ideal intellectual property right to bolster a programme such as ‘Make in India’.
Quality control of GI products in international and Indian context:
A GI is supposed to convey to a consumer the assurance of a certain quality, reputation or other characteristics of the goods on which it is applied, which are essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
- The keywords here are “quality control”. This is the sine qua non of any GI protection.
- In fact, the European Community Regulation1151/2012 for the protection of GIs is titled as a regulation “on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs”.
- The emphasis laid on quality must be underscored here.
- Recital 46 of this regulation states that the added value of GIs is based on consumer trust and that it is only credible if accompanied by effective verification and controls.
- Further, the quality schemes should be subject to a monitoring system of official controls to ensure verification of compliance with the law and rulesrelating thereto.
- It should include a system of checks at all stages of production, processing and distribution.
The Indian context:
In the Indian scenario, the question arises whether the GI Act provides for quality control measures and verification of compliance.
- The word ‘quality’ appears in the GI Act only in two instances, first in Section 2(1)(e) which defines a GI, and second, in connection with Section 11(2) that stipulates that the application should state as to how the GI serves to designate the goods in respect of, inter alia, quality.
- Unlike the European Regulation, the GI Act does not provide for monitoring mechanisms at multiple levels.
- There is no or little reference to an inspection or monitoring structure in the Act. In contrast, the European Regulation stipulates multiple monitoring measures, both within the GI-controlling body and outside it.
The need of the hour is to ensure quality control through monitoring mechanisms.
It is essential to identify all the potential GIs in the country, Prepare detailed documentation on each of them, Organize the producers and take measures for protecting the quality.
Currently, there is a proliferation of GI registrations in India without any legal provisions stipulating post-registration quality control measures that are to be employed in the production of goods branded as GIs.
This is detrimental not only to the protection process of GIs in India but also to the very existence of these GIs, because prolonged failure to meet consumer expectations would dilute the premium and credibility of GI-branded goods. Why would a customer pay a premium to a GI branded product if there is no difference in quality as compared to similarly placed goods?
While the campaign is a wonderful idea to promote awareness, there is more work that is required at the legislative level to ensure credibility of the GI protection process in India.
To make such efforts more meaningful and worth the passion put in by bodies such as CIPAM, we need to first fill the legislative gap in ensuring quality control through monitoring mechanisms.
Finally the need of the hour is that theGovernment of India should create awareness to rural producers regarding registration of GIs so that their products will be marketed globally it will generate huge foreign exchange to exchequer.
Intellectual property is an integral part of international trade. Since an intelligent and effective use of knowledge always contributes in the national economic prosperity. Given its commercial potential, the legal protection of GI assumes enormous significance. Without such protection, competitors not having legitimate right on a GI might ride free on its reputation. Such unfair business practices result in loss of revenue for the genuine right holders of the GI and also misleads the consumers. Moreover, such practices may eventually hamper the goodwill and reputation associated with the GI. In order to rule out its misuse and to tap the potential economic and socio economic benefits emanating from this IP, it is essential to ensure an appropriate legal protection for GIs at the national as well as the international level.