What is a geographical indication in intellectual property? Certain products are associated with specific geographical regions. They are mostly agricultural and food products that have a distinctive quality because of the soil, climate and other conditions prevalent in the areas that are found. For instance, Basmati rice is a distinctive product that is grown in the Himalayan foothills. Similarly, Darjeeling tea is grown Darjeeling, in the hill areas of West Bengal. More recently, Kolhapuri chappals got a Geographical Indicator that it belongs to the Maharashtra city.
In the past, people weren’t aware of the importance as well as the relevance of Geographical Indicators. In many cases, producers used these geographical indicators for products of a similar nature. For example, long-grained rice grown in other parts of the world used to be called ‘Basmati’ rice even though it wasn’t from India, and did not share all the characteristics of the product.
However, since mislabeling of this type affects producers of these geography-specific products, they have been more proactive in protecting what they feel is their intellectual property.
According to World Intellectual Property Rights Organization’s (WIPO’s), “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. To function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. Also, 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.”
So a tea producer in Darjeeling can insist that a product that is not grown in their tea gardens cannot carry the tag `Darjeeling’. Or makers of Kanchipuram silk sarees can say that a saree not produced in the Tamil Nadu town cannot have a `Kanchipuram’ tag.
There are many other instances of products that carry geographical indication, like Champagne, Florida Oranges, Parmesan cheese, Georgian wine, Alphonso mangoes, Chanderi sarees, Madhubani paintings, Malabar pepper, Scotch Whiskey, amongst many others.
In India, geographical indication in intellectual property is protected under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act), and the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002 (GI Rules). Notably, the first product to get the GI tag in India was Darjeeling tea, in 2004-5.
To get the GI tag, producers or their associations can make an application before the Registrar of Geographical Indicators. The producers should specify the process of manufacture, quality, reputation and other features of the product that are unique to the geographical area where it is manufactured. If the application is accepted, the application is advertised in the GI Journal. If there is no opposition, the GI tag will be awarded to the applicant.
This protects the producers of geography-specific products. Any infringement of this intellectual property protection can be challenged in a court, which can order an injunction against the product or award damages. Sections 39 and 60 of the law also provides for imprisonment between six months to three years, or/ and a fine of between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh.
For many products, a geographical indication is a critical feature and it benefits producers and consumers alike. As domestic and international trade grows, the chances of successful products being copied by others are very high.