From Kolhapuri Chappals to Odisha's 'Rasagola': What is the Significance of GI Tags?

Geographical Indications of Goods are defined as that aspect of industrial property which refers to the geographical indication referring to a country or to a place situated therein as being the country or place of origin of that product. Typically, such a name conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness which is essentially attributable to the fact of its origin in that defined geographical locality, region or country. Under Articles 1 (2) and 10 of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, geographical indications are covered as an element of IPRs. They are also covered under Articles 22 to 24 of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, which was part of the Agreements concluding the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations. India, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 has come into force with effect from 15th September 2003.

A geographical indication (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. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.

Article 22 of the TRIPS Agreements 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 another characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin“.

Mizo Puanchei, Odisha Rasagola, Kolhapuri Chappals, Gobindobhog Rice, Banaganapalle Mangoes, Pochampally Ikat are all some examples of Geographical Indications and appellations of everyday life.

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act), in Section 2(e), defines the term “geographical indication” as – “An indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or another characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in a case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”

This is the legally accepted definition of geographical indication in India since the Act came into force since the 15th of September, 2015.

The following types of goods are covered under the ambit of GI –

  •  Agricultural (example, Basmati rice)
  •  Natural (for example, Makrana marble)
  • Handicraft or of any industry (example, Kashmiri pashmina)
  • Foodstuff (example, Dharwad Pedha)

Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai has complete jurisdiction over the GI goods in India, including, but not limited to, their registration and application process. The Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) has appellate jurisdiction. It is also based in Chennai. The website of the IPAB boasts of being the only tribunal in India which has an international influence. This was visible in the case of Basmati rice involving the Lahore Growers Association (elaborated upon in later sections).

Most of the applicants of GI are from rural backgrounds. The tea growers of Darjeeling, whose interests are represented by the Tea Board in legislative matters, have seen financial advantages after Darjeeling Tea was accorded the GI status. Darjeeling tea was the first product to be accorded the status in India.

The commercial and social advantages are interrelated in this case. The makers of the Darjeeling tea can charge a higher price for their product as they do not have to face outside competition. Without being accorded the status of a geographical indication, the tea growers would have to face competitions from outside, including big companies with a lot of capital on their hands.

Most goods which apply for GI registration originate from rural areas. GI registration can also be seen as a commercial medium for rural empowerment and employment generation. Commercialization of a unique product leads to the product turning generic and the market prices falling down, along with the quality in most cases. This is avoided according to the GI status.

A producer of a good which has been accorded the status of a geographical indication has various commercial advantages. The producer becomes the sole seller of the commodity, and in the case of having a single “principal place of business” can even be said to have a monopoly.

A good which has a GI tag is associated with an immense reputation in terms of quality and prestige. A consumer gets value for their money when they buy a good with a GI tag, as the tag ensures that the product has all the features associated with it. For example, the taste of real Darjeeling tea is different from that of those trying to pass off their products as the same.

A trademark is basically a symbol which is unique to a person, company, good etc. This symbol is capable of differentiating it from other objects or persons. A trademark can be associated with objects, companies etc., while a GI can only be associated with a particular geographical location.

For Geographical Indications in India likewise, 2019 was a tremendous year. As per a few reports, around 31 items acquired Geographical Indication Protection in India between January 2019 and December 2019. A couple of prominent items that were registered as GIs a year ago incorporate Coorg Arabica Coffee, Dindigul Locks, Odisha Rasagola, and so forth.

India is a land full of diverse cultures and goods. Each state and even district has its own culture and produces goods unique to that area. A lot of the goods originate uniquely from that area, but not all are accorded the Geographical Indication status as per the definition under Section 2(e) of the Act. A lot of consideration is put into the applications by the GI Registry. The recent case of Basmati rice is a clear example of how the GI registrations affect not only our nations but others too. India has a very comprehensive registration process for Geographical Indications, which has incorporated the democratic principles of our Constitution. It has ample provisions for challenging the registration of goods under the GI Act.

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