A patent for everybody
Meena Shelgaonkar discusses the Geographic Indication of goods
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November 2001: The development of ideas is distinctively human. The forms by which our ideas are expressed differ from person to person; also the same person may express even the same idea in different forms. In modern times, this form of expression (& not the idea itself) is regarded as "intellectual work" and therefore the "Intellectual Property" of the owner. The World Intellectual Property Organization, located at Geneva, helps in processing & co-ordination of applications safeguarding this property according to member country laws & conditions. WIPO itself does not formulate laws; these are framed by the member countries.

The main objectives behind protection given to intellectual properties is to ensure that it is used in industrial and other activities for the betterment of society, to obtain financial gain for the owner, & to motivate others to create further intellectual work. This protection typically takes the form of "rights" (Intellectual Property Rights) afforded to the owner to use this intellectual property towards these purposes, and expressly forbidding others from making similar use of the property. The particular property right discussed here is Geographical Indication - its registration and protection.

GI is a notice of a specific product having been produced in a particular place. The producer can use this indication only for products from the specified region. Unlike a trademark, however, the GI is not an individual property for use by the owner alone, but it suggests the geographical indication of that region, which any producer may use. The consumer has faith in the quality of the product of the region for e.g. Alphanso Mango of Ratnagiri, chilies of Kolhapur, Sonpapadi of Nagpur, Champagne from France, etc. Geographical indication is in relation to goods originated or manufactured in the territory of country or a region or locality in that territory where a given quality-reputation or other characteristic of such goods is attributable to its geographical origin. In case such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or of preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such a place, region or locality (Appellation of origin).

Let us further clarify the difference between a geographical indication and an appellation of origin. Geographical indication is a notice, which tells that, a given product originates in a certain geographical area. While appellation of origin is a specific type of geographical indication, which ascertains certain qualities, which are due essentially or exclusively to its place of origin, or may be because of peculiar conditions, e.g. soil in that area. All appellations of origin are geographical indications but all geographical indications are not appellations of origin e.g. Roquefort cheese.

In recent years, the Indian Govt. has become aware of the importance of GI following the fiascos relating to Basmati & turmeric. India faced numerous difficulties in fighting a legal battle against American patent of Basmati, as the country did not have written & published documentation supporting its claim that Basmati should have such GI protection. In response to this new threat of intellectual piracy, both the houses of parliament have passed the Geographical Indications of Goods - Registration & Protection Act [1999]. Section 2(e) of the act defines Geographical indication in relation to goods as agricultural goods, natural goods, manufactured goods originated or manufactured in the territory of country or a region or locality in that territory where a given quality reputation or other characteristic of such goods are attributable to its geographical origin and in case such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or of preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such a place, region or locality.

Geographical indications have a wide variety of types of protections. They can be protected nationally either by decree or by a register. . a) National laws: - it is necessary to that each nation should make its own laws to protect & register the GI goods. India has the opportunity to formulate such laws and registers by 2005. During the available time it is necessary to search the geographically specialized goods & register them in "community registers" that can be prepared in every village/town. But it is necessary to include the geographical specialties & define the particular nature of the indication scientifically. A number of different steps are crucial in creating such registers.

  1. Compile a list of the special products grown or manufactured in a region, which have geographical peculiarities.
  2. Obtain detailed information of the relation of geography to the product - for e.g. the soil quality, weather, water, etc.
  3. Identify the specific human resources required in the manufacturing process.
  4. Perform a qualitative & quantitative classification of the product.
  5. Establish the commercial viability of the product.
  6. Compile a history of the profession whether it is hereditary & belongs to a particular community.
  7. Record whether the product is used for domestic purpose e.g. for medicinal, cosmetic or as diet ingredient.
  8. Most importantly, clearly identify its traditional, religious or cultural uses.

Developed nations around the world have created the infrastructure by which their intellectual property is safeguarded very well. In order to remain competitive and to prevent the loss of its own properties, India must build similarly strong systems. The nature of international agreements has created a strange beast - the trade agreements tend to define the nature of trade, rather than the other way around. Because there was a process by which the Basmati patent could be awarded to an American company, and because India had not engaged that process fully and vigorously, the export of 45,000 tonnes of Basmatic was suddenly under threat. The economic security of Indians lies in identifying our rightful geographic indications, and in remaining vigilant about potential abuses of these rights by competitors.

Meena Shelgaonkar
November 2001

Meena S. Shelgaonkar is a pharmacologist and a lecturer in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

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