What is Geographical Indication?

Geographical indications (GIs) are a facet of Intellectual Property (IP) rights that appears on items with a particular geographical origin and traits or a reputation related to that origin.

A geographical indication is a sign used on products with a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation due to that origin. Geographical Indication is primarily granted to agricultural, natural, and manufactured handicrafts from a definite geographical territory.

Article 22 of the TRIPS Agreement defines Geographical Indication as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

Subsequently, India upon acceding to the TRIPS Agreement, The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (the “GI Act”) came into force.

It is pertinent to note that a GI product must originate in a particular area, region, or location of a nation, and its given quality, reputation, or other attribute must be traceable to its geographic place of origin. Furthermore, at least one manufacturing, processing, or preparation activity must occur in that designated region.

The World Intellectual Property Organization outlines the following core objectives of GIs:

  • Enhances the goods’ reputation;
  • Builds consumer confidence;
  • Communicates the commitment to social responsibility;
  • Supports regional economic development; and
  • Prevents fraudulent uses of intellectual property rights.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about (GIs) and how to safeguard products and goods using a GI tag.

The Indian Context

GI Act, coupled with the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002 (the “GI Rules”) provides for the registration and better protection of geographical indications relating to goods.

In layman’s words, GIs identify things that originate in a specific location and are distinctive and well-known. Basmati rice, for example, draws its particular fragrance, grain elongation, and taste from the Indo-Gangetic plains of seven Indian states, which accorded its GI classification in 2016 after considerable legal wrangling.

According to the GI Act, the following goods are included:

1. Agricultural Goods: Soil-derived products like Basmati rice and Darjeeling tea     attributable to      the specific region.     

2. Natural Goods: Items acquired without human interference, such as Makrana marble and Marthandam honey.

3. Manufactured Goods: Items such as crafts or industrial items have attributes attributable to processing in a specific location. For example, Kashmiri pashmina shawls, Kolhapuri chappals, and Odisha Pattachitra are good examples of manufactured goods.

4. Food Stuff: Edible commodities when at least one manufacturing, processing, or preparation activity happens in a specified location, such as Dharwad Pedha and Tirupathi Laddu.

To be eligible for a GI tag, these commodities must have a certain quality, reputation, or trait primarily related to their geographical origin in a specific area or locale. Thus, the GI label provides confidence, legitimacy, and quality guarantee for items whose features are closely related to their historic producing location.

Statutory Provisions on Prohibition of Geographical Indication as a trade mark

Chapter V of the GI Act articulates “Special provisions relating to trademark and prior users”. Section 25 of the GI Act prohibits registration of geographical indication as a trade mark as they will be considered confusing and/or misleading the persons to the true place of origin of the goods or classes of goods.

However, Section 26 of the GI Act is a proviso clause that removes the embargo and allows for the protection of certain trademarks which are in good faith:

a) applied and/or have a registration before the commencement of the GI Act; or

b) applied for and/or has registration before applying for registration of such geographical indication under the GI Act.

Do Geographical Indications Matter for Business Success Too?

GIs safeguard goods that are unique to a place while also generating commercial opportunities. Darjeeling tea became India’s pioneering GI product, with the Tea Board of India representing growers’ interests. Attaining GI status enabled the socio-economic reforms by restricting external competition from mass producers.

For GIs like Darjeeling tea, commercial success, and social welfare are interlinked. GI registration preserves the product’s specialty status rather than allowing quality deterioration as a generic commodity.

Most Indian GI applicants hail from provincial communities seeking to leverage the designation to boost trade and livelihoods. The commercial advantages empower rural development and job creation centered around the protected goods.

Hence, GIs carry significance for rural populations while opening market possibilities. GIs help protect local goods from being copied cheaply, making them more profitable for businesses.

Examples of Geographical Indications in India

1. Darjeeling Tea

India has become one of the world’s major tea growers, with exports exceeding 197 million kg in 2021-2022. Tea production started in the 1840s during British control, attempting to challenge China’s market supremacy. As a result, it is appropriate that Darjeeling tea, which the British launched, became India’s first GI product.

Under applicable law, the Tea Board of India, founded in 1953, controls all intellectual property rights to Darjeeling tea. Its logo and name have trademark protection in important export markets such as China, Egypt, and the United States. Such extensive IP covering for the famed Darjeeling tea, along with GI classification, reinforces its distinctiveness.

2. Basmati Rice

GI labeling has also sparked debate about other crops, notably basmati rice from the Indo-Gangetic plains. When a Texas company claimed rights over the terms ‘Texmati’ and ‘American Basmati,’ Indian groups successfully asserted their rights and were able to restrict the patent claims by the Texas entity. 

Further, as per the Intellectual Property Office’s data (available until 31 August 2023) approx. 504 GIs have been registered in India.

How to register for a GI?

In India, getting a geographical indication (GI) tag starts with applying to the GI Registry (the
Registry”). The association of persons or producers or any organization or authority should represent the interests of producers of the concerned goods and file an affidavit on how the applicant claims to represent their interest.

Ordinary registrations for new Indian GIs, Convention applications for foreign GIs already registered abroad, and Single or Multi-Class filings encompassing one or more classes of commodities are among the application types. You must submit all applications in triplicate.

To determine eligibility, the application must include facts such as the business site, product descriptions, and other information as a statement of case.

The Registry examines applications and assigns them to an expert panel for evaluation. Post the examination and show cause notice (if any); within three months of acceptance, the application should be published in the GI Journal. Thereafter, any person may file a notice of opposition within three months (extendable by another month on request, which has to be filed before three months) opposing the GI application published in the GI Journal, and a separate opposition proceeding shall commence.

Finally, if the prosecution and opposition stages have been cleared, the GI registers with the deeming effect from the application date. Moreover, the Registrar issues a certificate with the seal of the       Registry and this registration is perpetual      subject to renewal every ten years.

Conclusion

GI is critical for strengthening local artisan groups, conserving Indian culture, and giving customers a taste of the cultural history. The government and stakeholders must promote the registration of new goods for GI to contribute to the country’s economic growth.

From an Indian perspective,  GI mark is an essential instrument for certifying the authenticity of      goods from India. Recognizing the growing importance of GI tags, India has made significant steps to safeguard its GI goods legally. To popularize GI-tagged commodities, institutions and agencies are developing successful marketing tactics.

However, obstacles such as a lack of knowledge among GI stakeholders impede the attainment of this goal.

India is vigorously pushing through different models for  ‘Vocal for Local’ programs which indeed includes GI mark products as well. The collective support, rising demand for traditional products, and expanding foreign market share will further boost GI-tagged items’ importance.

Author: Nitin Abhishek, Trademark Attorney

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