GI protection in India: A time to introspect

Written by Arun S | Updated: Sep 1 2008, 05:27am hrs
India, a 5,000-year-old civilisation, with its amazing cultures and traditions surely has several unique products from different regions that have been passed down from generation to generation. And if communities involved in manufacturing of such reputed products wake up to the fact that the protection given by a law can help them fetch a premium price for these items, one can imagine the rush to get this specific protection and the subsequent high monetary returns.

Reflecting this trend are the details of Geographical Indications (GI) applications in the last five years, done by the GI Registry in Chennai, the only one of its kind in the country. The law on GIsthe Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999came into force in the country on September 15, 2003.

GI registration is accorded to products with a reputation attributable to their place of origin or the area where they are manufactured. This GI mark is highlighted during marketing as one that stands for product quality, enabling the producer to obtain a higher value. The law gives protection to the registered proprietors and authorised users by giving them the right to the exclusive use of the GI and the right to obtain relief in case of its infringement.

Since September 2003, 83 GIs have been registered in India. Officials say that another 13 are very close to being registered. A recent surge in such registrations is interesting.

From September 2003 to March 2007, only 30 GIs were registered. But the country witnessed a rapid increase in GI registrations from then on and 31 GIs were registered from April 2007 to March 2008. We are hardly five months into this fiscal, and there are already 22 GI registrations, 18 of which have gone to handicraft products.

Handicraft items also constitute 31 of the 83 registered GIs. These include Keralas Aranmula Kannadi (mirror) and Mysore rosewood inlay. Textile items come next with 24, including items like Pochampalli Ikat of Andhra Pradesh and Chanderi fabric of Madhya Pradesh. Agriculture and horticulture products with six GI registrations each follow handicrafts and textiles in the list. The agricultural products include Alleppey green cardamom, while hoticulture products include Coorg orange.

State-wise break-up also throws up some interesting insights. Southern states have cornered more than half of the 83 registered GIs. Karnataka leads the pack with 22, followed by Tamil Nadu with 14, Kerala (8) and Andhra Pradesh (6). But other regions are fast catching up as only seven of the 22 registered GIs in this fiscal were from the South. Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have managed to get three GI registrations each, all for handicraft products.

Experts have cautioned against the overdrive for GI protection, as they fear that it would lead to the dilution of the concept and the weakening of the rights that it gives.

Pointing to the highly successful GI of Darjeeling tea, where inspection is rigorous and policing is vigorous, Dev S Gangjee, a GI expert and lecturer in Intellectual Property, London School of Economics, says, Lessons could be learned from this model.

If the follow up work is weak, then GI registration is ineffective in protecting consumers, he says, adding that very little is known about the expert committees the GI Registry is supposed to constitute to examine each application. Also, it is important to know more about the nature of the collective body representing producer interests for products, whether they represent a minority of producers or a particular lobby, he adds.

However, other Intellectual Property Rights experts like Shamnad Basheer, Research Associate, Oxford IP Research Center, point out, unless we drum up the numbers, we cannot think of commercialisation.

We want to bring some money to our artisans and farmers, and this is already happening thanks to the GI registration helping them to command a premium price for their product, Basheer adds.

Since GI registration is seen as a stamp of quality, it increases the consumers confidence in the product and therefore the demand for the product goes up, he argues. For instance, the demand for Darjeeling Tea is five times more than what India can supply and therefore several other countries naming their tea as one from Darjeeling are filling the gap, Basheer says.

To avoid this kind of a situation where India is on the losing side, the producer needs to quickly register the product in as many countries as possible, before anyone else does it there, referring to the normal rule first in time, first in right.