There has been much buzz in India lately in the field of Geographical Indication (GI) and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection. This is a necessary step to protect Indian intellectual property from being pirated in a globalised world, but while the talk is steady, the work is slow - too slow not to have any long-term economic repercussions for India and adversely affect the potential development of our products. The recent progress - or the lack of it - in registration and implementation of legal protection of products in India evidences the need for speed and sensitization on this front, especially in the government machinery.

As our readers would recall, GI is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation due to the particular place of origin. Most commonly, a GI comprises the name of the place of origin itself. India passed the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and protection) Act 1999 with a view to provide for the registration and better protection of GIs relating to goods. As an economic benefit, GIs act as an authenticity/quality mark. This is a factor in enhancing export markets and revenues.

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights is at a very primitive stage in India. This is primarily why biological resources of India have been immensely exploited by the developed countries especially the USA and Australia. The Biological Diversity Act 2002 was passed by the Parliament as recently as two years ago. While the Central government has constituted the National Biological Authority, the State governments have still not constituted the State Biological Boards. The North East and Himachal Pradesh, for instance, are regions full of medical plants and other useful biological resources which could be registered and protected as GI. The value of biological resources in India is roughly US $ 400-500 billion.

India is one of the richest countries of the world in terms of natural, agricultural, biological resources and handicraft products. We might need to reform our inadequate and tardy efforts towards legal protection of our products.
 •  What's in a name?
 •  India' first GI contender
 •  Basmati GI beset by delays
Let us briefly consider the progress of GI implementation in India. Vinay K. Jain, Partner of Law Firm IPR Juris and Consultant Lawyer for United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s (UNIDO) Cluster Development Project at Chanderi has been instrumental in initiating the process of securing GI status for Chanderi fabric. After a rather tortuous struggle, Chanderi Saree has finally been registered as GI in India. But still, the certificates issued by the Registrar’s office are far from being proper. Vinay K. Jain will spearhead even the implementation of Chanderi Saree GI on behalf of UNIDO. “It is going to be a very challenging task. The actual production of real Chanderi Sarees amounts to roughly Rs.15 Crores while the spurious market is around Rs.60 Crores. No one in India has done this work and there are no precedents for implementation procedures and methods for GI,” offers Jain. While on the other hand, countries like the USA and a number of European countries have drawn national policies related to protection of IPR. The absence of any national or state-level IPR policy in India only makes matters worse. A workshop was organized in Chanderi in May 2005 on issues of implementation of GI of Chanderi Sarees. Implementation of GI involves a consensus procedure and also sizeable funds to fight the well established market of spurious goods. The task becomes especially daunting since the spurious market has genes and networks all over the country and such activities have been going on for decades. Successful registration of a product as a GI is only the first hurdle crossed on the long road of enforcement and sustainable implementation.

Ironically, very little attention is being paid to ensure speedy processing of the basmati GI application filed in August 2004. This is the hottest issue in terms of GI and the spurious market of basmati alone is around Rs. 7000 Crores per year. Even the first stage towards GI status, i.e. the constitution of the Consultative Committee, has not taken place. Curiously, other applications filed at the same time or a little later have been processed and are at final stages of registration.

However, according to Jain, general awareness is increasing even in government circles regarding the long-term impact of GI registration. Workshops and orientation lectures are being increasingly organized on such issues all over the country. For instance, the State and Central government recently organized a joint workshop in Varanasi for registration of Banarasi Sarees as GI. The potential market of Banarasi Sarees is estimated at around Rs.50 Crores while the spurious market is around Rs.100 Crores annually. Proposals for two potential GIs in Orissa are being processed – ‘Nizar’ (an agricultural product used for feeding birds and greatly in demand in the US; now the US seems to producing the same and the demand from Orissa has decreased tremendously) and ‘Sambhalpuri Sarees’. The adulterous market of a product like ‘Bikaneri Bhujia’ cannot be estimated. On average, an Indian consumes around 100 gms of namkeen per day and so-called Bikaneri Bhujia has complete hold of the Indian market. However, the production of genuine Bikaneri Bhujia is extremely negligible and comprises around 3-4 % of the entire consumption.

For the first time in India, ‘Collective Rights’ will be recognized. This refers to rights jointly owned by principal stakeholders like Chanderi weavers or Basmati farmers. Collective ownership strengthens the case of main stakeholders especially in view of threats to Indian products from China and other countries producing similar products at much cheaper price.

While certainly some progress has been made on the front of GI protection of products, a lot remains to be done. India is one of the richest countries of the world in terms of natural, agricultural, biological resources and handicraft products. We need to reform our inadequate and tardy efforts towards legal protection of our products if we are to counter the traditional tendency of developed countries to hijack our Intellectual Property Rights.