Geographical Indications and descriptors of daily life include Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, Mexico’s Tequila, France’s Roquefort, Bikaner’s Bhujia, Kolhapur’s Chappals, and Mysore’s Silk. Under Section 2(e) of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, the phrase “geographical indication” is defined as follows: 

Any impression which indicates that certain goods, such as agricultural products, genuine goods, or manufactured items, originated or were made under the jurisdiction of a country, or maybe a region or locality within that jurisdiction, where a particular quality, reputation, or other attributes of such goods is largely due to its geographical location, and when such goods are produced goods, one of the acts of either manufacturing or processing or preparing of the stuff“.

In general definition, GI (geographical indication) is a designation given to a product that is iconic to a specific region or location and originated there. These commodities are known for their significant quality. Simply by having the tag of originating towards that place, they are linked with a perception of validity and confidence. For example, Basmati rice is noted for its distinct aroma and large grains. It can only be found in the Indo Gangetic plains. In 2016, seven Indian states were granted the title of GI following a protracted legal struggle.

What falls under GI?

Section 2(g) of the GI Act mentions the following types of goods which are covered under the ambit of GI-

  1. Agriculture (example, Basmati rice)
  2. Raw material (for instance, Makrana marble)
  3. Whether it’s a handicraft or a business (example, Kashmiri pashmina)
  4. Ingredients for food (example, Dharwad pedha)

Lets talk about the Legal aspect of GI

Origin of GI From an International Perspective: 

Following approval of the Convention on TRIPS of IP Rights, India enacted GI legislation. Every WTO member nation ratified the TRIPS accord as a “single endeavour“. The TRIPS agreement establishes a minimum level of protection for items registered as a GI, which all WTO members are required to observe. According to Article 22 (2)(b) of the agreement, the goal of granting the status of GI to commodities is to avoid “unfair competition” and misinformation concerning the geographical origins of an item (Article 22(2)(a))

Further, Article 22 of the TRIPS Agreement, adopted in 1994, has been questioned for not being broad enough to include all items. Wines and spirits are given particular treatment under Article 23.

In the context of items apart from liquors, the TRIPS agreement solely protects the manufacturer if there is a specific act of deception against the consumer by intending to pass off a commodity as a GI protected good and nothing else. Following that, Section 10 of the GI Act stipulates that a “homonymous GI may be recognised under this Act if the Registrar is convinced, after examining the realistic circumstances,” that there is no contradiction in the public’s perception of the products.

However, even if the abuse of a commodity does not deceive the consumer, Members are expected to create arrangements for the preservation of liquors that are simply “eligible” to such protection. Many nations, including India, have requested an extension to the same, amongst various things, to include other highly useful items in its scope.

According to Article 23(1), if the title of a wine or spirit with GI designation is employed in translations or accompanied by phrases such as “form“, “shape“, “design“, “representation” etc.” shall be deemed as an infringement of the agreement.

Indian GI laws and Jurisdictions

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act of 1999 and the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules of 2002 control GI registrations and commodities.

As per Section 58(1) of the GI Act, every dispute in which the legality of a GI’s registrations is called into question is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the IP Appellate Board. Furthermore, Section 66(1)(c) of the GI Act gives “any court lower to a district court possessing jurisdiction to try the complaint” the authority to hear infringement claims. Injunctions, nominal damages, and monetary losses may be granted at the judge’s discretion, as the plaintiff’s request, according to Section 67 of the GI Act. “No case or other legal actions shall be brought against any person in regarding anything done or intended to be done in good conscience within the Act” as per Section 55 of the Act.

The Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai has total jurisdiction over GI goods in India, comprising their registration and application processes. Appellations are handled by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB). It is located in Chennai as well. Pursuant to the IPAB’s webpage, it is India’s only international-level tribunal. This was seen in the case of the Lahore Growers Association and Basmati rice.

Status quo Before the GI Act

Prior to the GI Act, any remedy for violation of geographical indication rights was provided through a tort case or the Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958, which has now overturned the Trade Marks Act, 1999. 

Examples from India

Darjeeling Tea: In the fiscal year 2015-16, India produced more than it had in the previous three decades, with exports surpassing 230 million kg. The Tea Board of India was founded in 1953 as a result of the Tea Act. IP rules had safeguarded the emblem as well as the name Darjeeling Tea. Darjeeling Tea is a trademark in China, Australia, Egypt, Lebanon, the United States, and other nations.

Basmati Rice: Basmati rice has always been at the centre of a GI war between different states, including Pakistan as well as the United States. A Texas-based firm created ‘Texmati‘ or ‘American Basmati‘ patented by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A handful of Indian NGOs objected, stating that the word ‘basmati’ can be applied to rice farms in Pakistan and India.

Madhya Pradesh continues to demand GI certification for rice harvested in a few of its areas. The Basmati Growers Association (BGA) in Lahore maintained that the basmati rice label might only be applied to Pakistani soil. BGA filed a complaint with the Chennai based Intellectual Property Appellate Board.

Scotch Whisky: The Delhi High Court held Scotch Whisky Association v. Golden Bottling Limited in 2006. The defendant was accused of producing “Red Scot“, an allegedly deceptive product to customers. Subsequently, in 2015, the government accepted Scotch whisky under Section 2(e) of the GI Act’s definition.

GI’s relevancy towards Businesses or Communities

The majority of GI applications come from rural areas. Darjeeling tea producers, whose concerns are represented on legal matters even by the Tea Board, have reaped financial benefits since Darjeeling Tea was granted GI status. Darjeeling tea was the first commodity in India to get this honour.

Throughout the scenario, the business and social benefits are intertwined. Due to the lack of outside rivalry, Darjeeling tea producers may demand a premium price on the products. Without the position of a geographical indicator, tea producers would confront competition from other sources, especially large corporations with a lot of cash onboard.

The majority of items that seek GI registration come from rural regions. GI registration may also be viewed as a business tool for rural development and job creation. When a unique product is commercialised, it becomes generic, and market price and quality plummet. Thus according to GI status, this is prevented.

Advantages of a Registered GI

For a Producer: The GI Rules of 2002 is intended to safeguard the sector of distinctive goods distinguished by their geographical area. GI registration grants the registered manufacturer and authorised representative the sole right to safeguard the registered GI on the prescribed items. As well-drafted a sort of IP, GI seems to have a high financial worth.

For a Consumer: A GI-labeled product has a strong reputation for quality and prestige. The bulk of commodities seeking GI Registration is produced by micro, small, and medium businesses, most of which are located in rural regions. GI registration allows small firms to get market share that huge corporations huge corporations would alternatively control.

Trademark and GI

Section 2(zb) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 says “Trademark” refers to a mark that might have been expressed visually and that can differentiate an individual’s products or services from that of another, which can include the shape of the items, their wrapping, and colour combinations.

A trademark is a distinctive sign to an individual, enterprise, product, or service. This symbol can be used to distinguish it from other items or people. Nike, for example, has a tick as their trademark. The general public, as well as the authorities, connect that specific tick with Nike.

A trademark can indeed be connected with items, corporations, and so on, but a GI could only be identified with a specific geographical area.

Conclusion: This previous situation of Basmati rice exemplifies how GI registrations influence not just our countries but also others. This previous situation of Basmati rice exemplifies how GI registrations influence not just our country but also others. India is a diverse country with many different cultures and products. Every state, and even every district, has its own culture and creates things that are exclusive to that region. Many commodities appear distinctive to that region, although not all are granted Geographical Indication status under the Act’s criteria in Section 2(e). The GI Registry gives each application careful attention. The TRIPS was the global agreement that first brought the problem of geographical indications to India’s attention. Following the Uruguay Round at General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1994, India was among the nations that requested an amendment to the protection provided under the agreement. The TRIPS agreement has been criticised for not providing the same amount of protection to other goods as it does to “wine and spirits,” regardless of the reality that it is quite comprehensive and well-drafted. India has a highly thorough registration procedure for Geographical Indications that incorporates democratic values from the Constitution. It has several provisions for contesting the registration of products under the GI Act. According to the Controller General of Patents, 285 items were registered as GI between 2009 and 2015, with another 224 under review.

Disclaimer: The present article intends to provide general guidance on the subject, and you can also consult us in your specific case.