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The Geographical Indications Act affords protection to goods that can be identified 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 conditions. In the case where such goods are manufactured goods, one of the activities of production, processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory or locality as the case may be. The term is initially for a period of 10 years and can be renewed from time to time.

Until recently India did not have a specific law governing Geographical Indications of goods, which could adequately protect the interests of producers of such goods. Unless a Geographical Indication is protected in the country of its origin, there is no obligation under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for other countries to extend reciprocal protection. In view of this, it was considered necessary to have a comprehensive legislation for registration and for providing adequate protection for Geographical Indications. Thus,the government enacted a pertinent legislation, namely, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. The legislation is administered through the Geographical Indications Registry under the overall charge of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks. This Act, along with the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002 came into force on September 15, 2003.

A Geographical Indications Registry has been established in Chennai for the purpose of administering the legislation. Appeal against the Registrar's decision would be to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board established under the Trade Marks legislation.

Significance of Geographical Indication Registration

Such identification enables the product to gain a reputation and goodwill all over the world, consequently resulting in premium prices in national and international markets. Recognition of a particular commodity as a Geographical Indication also confers the right to protection under the Geographical Indication Act, 1999, thereby preventing an unauthorised use of the commodity registered as GI by any third party. Geographical Indication registration encourages community ownership and therefore it helps in proper distribution of the economic benefits accrued from commercialisation of the commodity across a wider section of people in that territory.

Registered Geographical Indications in India

A Geographical Indication signals that particular goods have originated from or are manufactured in a particular territory. A classic example of an international Geographical Indication is Champagne. The goods can be in any form, natural, manufactured or agricultural. Some commodities that have been recently granted the status of a Geographical Indication by the Government of India include Gir Kesar Mango, Bhalia wheat, Kinhal Toys, Nashik Valley wine, Monsoon Malabar Arabica Coffee, Malabar Pepper, Alleppy Green Cardamom and Nilgiris Orthodox Tea. Other examples include Darjeeling Tea, Mysore Silk, Paithani Sarees, Kota Masuria, Kolhapuri Chappals, Bikaneri Bhujia and Agra Petha.

Each of the aforesaid commodities, which have been granted the status of Geographical Indication, possess distinct features related to their respective territories. For example, Monsoon Malabar coffee has a yellowish tinge due to its exposure to the sea winds for nearly six months in a year. Malabar pepper is grown exclusively in Thalassery and other northern parts of Kerala. Its corns are larger than the typical black pepper corns with a dark brown colour. It is very aromatic and pungent, and the most complex, balanced and elegant of peppers.

The Alleppey green cardamom is the traditional grade that is internationally accepted. The size, colour and chemical constituents of this grade of cardamom, with high oil content, set it apart. The identity of this brand is interwoven with the geographical name Alleppey, a coastal district in Kerala. Nilgiris tea has an exquisite flavour and aroma, accompanied by a creamy mouth feel. These qualities are due to the high elevation of the Nilgiris coupled with its cold, dry and misty weather.

GIs: Procedural Overview

Any association of persons, producers, organisations or authority established by or under the law can apply for a Geographical Indication provided that the applicant must represent the interests of the producers.

An application for registration of a Geographical Indication is to be made in writing, along with the prescribed fees, and should be addressed to the 'Registrar of Geographical Indications'. The application should include the requirements and criteria for processing a GI application as specified below:

  • The class of goods;
  • The territory;
  • The particulars of appearance;
  • Particulars of producers;
  • An affidavit of how the applicant claims to represent the interest in the GI;
  • The standard bench mark or other characteristics of the GI;
  • The particulars of special characteristics;
  • Textual description of the proposed boundary;
  • The growth attributes in relation to the GI pertinent to the application;
  • Certified copies of the map of the territory;
  • Special human skill involved, if any;
  • Number of producers; and
  • Particulars of inspection structures, if any, to regulate the use of the GI.

On receipt of the application, a number will be allotted. Thereafter, the application would be examined to check whether it meets the requirements of the Act and Rules. For this purpose the Registrar shall ordinarily constitute a Consultative Group of experts to ascertain the correctness of the particulars furnished. After issuance of the Examination Report, submissions of the applicant would be considered. If no further objection is raised, the application would be accepted and would be advertised in the Geographical Indications Journal. An opposition can be lodged within a maximum of four month from the date of publication. If the opposition is dismissed, the application will proceed to registration in Part A of the Register unless the Central Government otherwise directs.