The ancient history of India, its rich and diverse cultural heritage, age-old traditional customs and practices have always managed to capture the attention of people around the world. Kanjeevaram silk, Chanderi fabric, Pochampalli Ikkat or Kota Doria, all of these are indicators of the mighty wealth India possesses in the form of these Geographical Indications.
In simple words, Geographical Indications or GI is a kind of intellectual property that identifies the goods from their origin. The Geographical Indication Act, 1999 defines it 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 other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in 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”.
In general, these kinds of goods/products not only emerge as major exports from their origin country; they also prove to be of enormous importance in the tourism promotion of their country of origin. 330 products have been registered as GIs in India including 11 foreign products till date. The GI concept originated in the Paris Convention for the protection of Industrial Property in 1883 and is also covered under the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). India follows ‘The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act) and the Geographical Indications of Goods(Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002 (GI Rules). These laws are in compliance with India’s obligations under TRIPS. The GI registry is established at Chennai by the Indian government, with all India jurisdiction.
GI registration in India
It is pertinent to note that GI registration is not mandatory in India. But at the same time, there are some rights conferred upon the registered GI holders. Section 21 of the Indian Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 mentions as:
(1) Subject to the other provisions of this Act, the registration of a geographical indication shall, if valid, give,-
(a) to the registered proprietor of the geographical indication and the authorised user or users thereof the right to obtain relief in respect of infringement of the geographical indication in the manner provided by this Act;
(b) to the authorised user thereof the exclusive right to the use of the geographical indication in relation to the goods in respect of which the geographical indication is registered.
(2) The exclusive right to the use of a geographical indication given under clause (b) of sub-section (1) shall be subject to any condition and limitation to which the registration is subject.
(3) Where the two or more persons are authorised users of geographical indications, which are identical with or nearly resemble each other, the exclusive right to the use of any of those geographical indications shall not (except so far as their respective rights are subject to any conditions or limitations entered on the register) be deemed to have been acquired by anyone of those persons as against any other of those persons merely by registration of the geographical indications, but each of those persons has otherwise the same rights as against other persons as he would have if he were the sole authorised user.
Section 8 of the Indian Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, lists the norms that indicate the registrability criteria of the Geographical Indications. It mentions that a geographical indication may be registered:
i) In respect of any or all of the goods, comprised in such class of goods which is classified by the registrar;
ii) defines the territory of a country;
iii) defines region in a territory; and
iv) defines locality in the territory.
Indian Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 also mentions about the prohibition of registration of certain Geographical Indications in its Section 9.
The legal protection of the GI acts as armour for traditions, culture and the traditional form of expression, for which the product is known. It in turn not only generates livelihood and means of sustenance for the ones involved, but it also promotes tourism and helps in preserving traditional craftsmanship.
Weakness of Indian Legal framework
While the Indian Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 is attempting to safeguard the diverse cultural and traditional wealth of India; there are still some gaps which need to be filled for its absolute implementation. It is important to grasp here that for the production of the GI goods, there is no requirement of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), since these goods can be produced in India from scratch. But there is little or no importance given as to how the quality standards shall be maintained. Europe has been protecting its GIs since 1800s to the extent that quality control standards are maintained at various stages of the supply chain, to make sure the end product conforms to the product specification. Such standards are maintained throughout the supply chains along with thorough quality control checks before the goods get in the market. It overall increases the reliability of the system. There is no such mechanism present or implemented or mentioned in the Indian legal system. This is the precise reason that despite having a rich and diverse cultural heritage, there is not even a single remarkable GI success story.
For conclusion, it is worth mentioning that In India, immense possibilities remain unexplored until strict implementation of the GI registration rules and quality standard compliance is ensured by the Indian government and Indian penal system.
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