Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Geographical Indications: an Update

  • INTA – Geographical Indications Database
During the Geographical Names Conference organized by the International Trademark Association (INTA) held in Rome on December 10-11, 2015, INTA has launched a new online Member Resource on December 10, 2015.

The searchable online database will be a publication on Geographical Indications, Certification Marks and Collective Marks.

The Geographical Indications (GI) tag distinguish products on the basis of its geographical origins and prevents traders from claiming the attributes of a product which are specific to certain geographies to products produced in other areas. A GI tag grants exclusivity to a ‘community’ as a whole rather than individuals (legal entities), as in the case of trademarks and patents.

The said resource is available online on the website of INTA at http://www.inta.org/GeographicalIndications/Pages/GeographicalIndications.aspx and is accessible solely to INTA members. The resource is aimed at assisting attorneys in determining the procedure for protecting Geographical Indications, Collective marks and Certifications marks in select jurisdictions, whether under sui generis or other types of laws.
  • Basmati Rice – Indo-Pak Collateral Protection for GI Mark
As reported in Financial Express, an English Daily, basmati rice may finally be on its way to getting the much awaited and coveted GI tag and the protection associated with it.

Pakistan has reportedly agreed not to contest India’s move to include basmati, grown in parts of the Indo-Gangetic plain in its GI Registry, with the condition that when Pakistan puts in place a similar IPR (intellectual property rights) platform, it would also get the rice grown in its Punjab province registered under a GI system.

The long grained aromatic rice is produced in the foothills of the Himalayas (Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi, in India and the Punjab province of Pakistan).

The Intellectual Property Appellate Board, Chennai recently concluded hearing all stakeholders, in respect of the GI tag for basmati rice and is likely to issue a final notification in this regard, shortly. There have been various conflicting claims over the basmati, even within India.

GI recognition in India would result in protection of the tag in other countries including the European Union and the US. Since basmati was not covered under GI protection, many private companies from various jurisdictions have tried to register their products under the title, which is globally considered a high priced premium rice.

On this GI notification becoming a reality, farmers from 77 districts in 7 states in India would benefit. India currently has an 87% share in the global sales of basmati.

In 2013, the Centre had been asked by the GI Registry, whether the State of Madhya Pradesh (MP) could be included in the geographies which traditionally grow basmati. The same was strongly opposed by various stakeholders including, agriculture ministries. The MP government also moved the IPAB in this regard.

The Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA), which operates under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, subsequently told IPAB that MP’s claim was invalid. Under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, APEDA is designated to be the custodian of GI rights for farm produce.

APEDA had applied for exclusive (commercial) use of ‘basmati’ for a grain variety which is grown in the boundaries of the Indo-Gagentic plain, in 2009.

In the past, India and Pakistan also initiated steps to register basmati under GI as ‘joint heritage’ for protecting its premium market abroad, however, the bid was faced with opposition within Pakistan and was not fruitful. 
  • Tirur Paan (betel leaves) – GI Protection
As reported in Times of India, an English daily, farmers in and around Tirur, an important business centre in the State of Kerala, have been growing and exporting betel leaves (Tirur Paan), with a spicy aromatic flavor, to Pakistan via Middle East for over half a century.

The market for the said betel leaves is threatened by the exports of betel leaves from Sri Lanka being marketed as Tirur betel leaves in Pakistan. Popular in the Pakistani market as Tirur-Lanka Paan, the name has worked well in the favour of the farmers from Sri Lanka.

"It is our soil, climate, cultivation practices that give the leaves its unique flavour and spiciness which is not found anywhere else in the world. We can continue the vocation only if the product is exported to Pakistan. It is important that we protect our markets in Karachi and Lahore as it is just not viable to grow the crops for the local markets due to the high labour charges. Sadly, the Sri Lankan leaves are gaining upper hand in Pakistan at our cost. We hope that the GI tag would help us protect the heritage and legacy of Tirur Betel leaves in the Pakistan," Beeran Kutty, a farmer in the area, has stated.

The export for the Tirur Paan dropped drastically, also because of the geo-political differences between India and Pakistan, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Kargil War. Sri Lanka filled the void in export of the said betel leaves.

In view of the above difficulties and in an effort to safeguard the rights (claim) of the Tirur farmers in their sole overseas market, the farmers with the help of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Cell of Kerala Agricultural University, are making efforts to have the Tirur Paan leaves gain the GI tag.

Obtaining the GI tag would allow the farmers to enforce their rights overs the geographically attributed product worldwide.

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