FE Editorial Indication of incompetence

The Financial Express Posted online: Friday, Jul 25, 2008 at 0000 hrs
The rejection of an application filed by the Heritage Foundation for geographical indication (GI) status for basmati rice by the controller general of patents, designs & trademarks is a setback for the producers and exporters of basmati rice. The basmati ‘brand’ is already being misappropriated by rice producers from other continents. Under the circumstances, it is exceptionally incompetent of those who filed for the GI status to be unable to procure even the basic expertise needed to correctly file an application with adequate documentation that could pass muster with national authorities—international authorities would require even higher standards. Perhaps, the only consolation is that this case seems an isolated instance and other, far less known entities, like producers of Muga silk from Assam, Nakshi Kantha from West Bengal, Kovai Cora cotton from Tamil Nadu and the relatively unknown Palakkadan Mutta rice growers have been able to file applications and successfully secure GI registration in the recent past.

In fact, it is to the credit of the Geographical Indications Registry that it has successfully registered 31 GIs in 2007-08, a record number given that only 30 GIs have been registered since 2003 when the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act of 1999 was enforced. Numbers show that the popularity of GI status seems to have gained new momentum with the Registry receiving as many as 37 new applications last year from, among others, producers of Goan Cashew Feni, Fazili Mango from West Bengal and Lucknow Chikan Craft. There is, however, a disturbing trend in the applications—a clear regional bias shows up, with almost three-fourths of the GIs registered originating from the four southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Bihar, on the other hand, has been able to secure only three GIs, while bigger states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have had to settle for just one each. The big states need to catch up if India is to compete with other nations like China, which had registered more than 250 GIs by 2007. India, along with like-minded groups, has been arguing for the removal of disparities in the protection offered to wine and spirits producers vis-à-vis others in terms of GIs in various international forums. India needs to put its own house in order before it can make a good case abroad.