In a world that is ever-changing and constantly evolving, it becomes a daunting task to keep track or to know for sure the origin or heritage of a particular food or an item of clothing, or even a piece of handicraft.
Even though certain kinds of food/items of clothing originated from a specific place or a region, other people do not shy away from openly copying and passing off their sub-par goods often from a different region to cash in on the popularity and quality of products which are grown or made in a specific region.
To protect and give legal rights to people whose trade or craft is from a specific region or if they use raw material which is only available in a particular place the government provides protection in the form of Geographical Indications or GIs.
Origin of Geographical Indications
Even though the concept of Geographical Indication has been around for centuries, the French were one of the first to develop a proper system to categorize and identify different foods/articles that showed particular properties and were associated with a specific region. The system developed by them was known as appellation d’origine controlee(AOC) which is still in use and was functioning since the early part of the twentieth century.
One of the best examples of historical G.I systems is the process of making wine. For example, a G.I for wine might indicate not only the particular region where the grapes are grown but it also takes into account the soil, the climate and/or also indicate a particular patch of land in a vineyard.
Another great example is that of medieval sword makers. They were known to brand their wares with their seal so the customers can distinguish between different kinds.
GIs not only protect and gives legal rights to people whose trade or craft is from a specific region, but it also has various other benefits. Some of those benefits are explained below.
Most of the people who grow or make products that have the GI tag stay in rural or semi-urban areas. Their livelihood is specific to the region where the goods are produced. Sometimes, they are not able to make an adequate amount of money from their craft and so they migrate to bigger cities in search of work and as a result, the human touch and techniques that made the products unique get affected. The result is sub-par produce or products which affect the whole economy of the region.
A lot of women are also involved in trades that have the GI tag or have applied for one.GI protection will help them to generate more income and also help them to lead a better and dignified life. This will also lead to the betterment of the whole family as well as the community.
A great example is the traditional industry of producing saffron in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The process of producing saffron is mostly taken by women of the house who pick flowers as well as produce saffron after hours of back-breaking work. The J&K government has also applied for the GI status for saffron which will immensely help the women who are involved in the trade.
A direct result of getting the status is getting better remuneration for their product or produce. Once the status is granted, the manufacturer can charge a premium for his product. The proceeds from this increased revenue can help the producers to make a better life for themselves and it also incentivizes them to produce high-quality goods which directly benefit the consumers.
GI TAG: The Indian Side
GI tag is governed by Geographical Indications of Goods(Registration and Protection Act),1999. This Act is administered by the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks, who is also Registrar of Geographical Indications.
The latest food item which has got the coveted G.I tag is ‘Banglar Rasgolla’. Even though the sweet ‘Rasgolla’ is consumed and produced throughout the sub-continent, West Bengal was officially recognized as the state from where ‘Rasgolla’ originated. However, the task of getting the GI tag was an uphill battle for the West Bengal Government.
The Directorate of Food Processing Industry of West Bengal had made an application on September 8, 2015, seeking GI status for Banglar Rasogolla, According to the application, Rasogollas were invented in the Nadia district of West Bengal are 60 years old. Haradhan, a confectioner of village Phulia is named as the inventor. West Bengal had given half-a-dozen historical pieces of evidence to back its claim, but before the application was accepted, the government of Orissa stated that ‘Rasgulla’ originated from their state. Soon after, a battle ensued between the two warring states.
The fight got so intense that the Orissa government even set up three committees to look into matters relating to the origin of Rasgulla. The first committee would look into facts and evidence regarding the origin of Rasgulla in Orissa, the second would study the ground, based on which West Bengal is making its claim. The third would collect necessary documents to support and validate Orissa’s claim. However, two years on, and West Bengal can finally claim that the Rassogola is officially theirs.
International Agreements related to Geographical Indications
One of the first attempts to standardize the rules and standards for the grant of GIs was taken at the Paris Convention on 20 March 1883. This treaty is still in force and has 177 members as part of it.
As per Articles 2 and 3, people who reside in the jurisdiction or have a domicile of a member country, then they will get the same protection and rights regarding industrial property that were they given in their home country.
The concept of ‘Convention priority right’ or ‘Union priority right’ was also established here. It states that a member state can use the ‘first filing date’ of his home state as their ‘first filing date’ in another member state.
Lisbon Agreement on Protection of Appellations of Origins and their Registrations
This agreement was signed on 31st October 1958. One of the key points of this agreement was that member states will get the same protection in other member states and vice-versa.
Another addition to the above-mentioned agreement was the ‘Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications’. It formally extends the protection to GIs. It also allows intergovernmental organizations to become parties.
After going through the above-mentioned points, we can safely assume that GIs not only protect products and goods from infringement but is also a very lucrative source of generating profits. The flip side to this is that for a GI to generate revenue it should also be reasonably popular.
The government should also take the initiative of identifying things that could GI tag and then educate the general public on how to utilize it.
Even though the government is doing its best to sensitize people about the benefits of GI, it is still an uphill task for them.
For every well-known Indian GI like ‘Rassogulla’ and ‘Basmati Rice’, there are other products which despite having the coveted GI tag are relatively less known. A prime example of this is ‘Surkha Guava’ from Allahabad and Green Cardamom from Coorg.
Another factor that affects the revenue is the quality of the product. Unlike in the EU, where the quality of the product is strictly monitored, it is not the same case in India. Here, there is no central agency that monitors the manufacturing and quality of products having the GI tag which results in different quality of products under the same GI tag.
The government should educate people about the proper manufacturing process and quality control. It should also have strict guidelines in place to check that all the products having the GI tag are of uniform quality.
Authored by Shivendra Mishra for MikeLegal