Insights into Editorial: Making India GI brand conscious
17 March 2016
Geographical indications (GIs) right is often described as “sleeping beauty”. Also, of all the Intellectual Rights, it is the least discussed right.
What is GI status?
GI status is an indication that identifies goods as produced from a particular area, which has special quality or reputation attributable to its geographical origin.
- GI-branded goods possess a recall value amongst consumers who essentially attribute these characteristics, qualities or reputation to such geographical origin.
GI registration confers:
- Legal protection to the products.
- Prevents unauthorised use of a GI by others.
- Helps consumers get quality products of desired traits.
- Promotes economic prosperity of producers of goods by enhancing demand in national and international markets.
Significance of GIs:
- GIs support and protect local production, generate local employment and are mostly untouched by industrialisation, originating in villages or small towns.
- They are also popular for their unique production methods. Since consistent quality is a must in GI-branded goods, and often cements itself as a consumer recollection point, producers are expected to diligently follow specific production methods.
- They also make way for the construction of ancillary industries like tourism and lodging in the respective regions, enabling visitors to get a first-hand experience of the manufacturing process and absorb the history thereof. Such ancillary industries also create local employment and aid in the socio-economic development of the region in the long run.
- GIs status also boosts exports.
GI Act in India:
Complying with World Trade Organisation obligations, India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act) and has set up a registry in Chennai to register such names.
- The act is administered by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks.
- Covering agricultural goods, manufactured and natural goods, textiles, handicrafts and foodstuffs, the GI Registry’s website lists 238 registered names as of March 2016.
- While the list has popular GIs like Basmati rice, Darjeeling tea and Pashmina shawls, many names on the list are lesser known or never heard of, despite being in existence for decades.
Problems with the present GI Act:
- India’s GI Act does not lay much emphasis on inspection and monitoring mechanisms for GI protection.
- Also, quality associated with geographical origin is the hallmark of a GI and the current legal framework evidently lacks teeth to ensure it.
GIs and Make in India:
One of the objectives of the “Make in India” programme is to improve and protect the Indian intellectual property (IP) regime. The steps envisaged to achieve this objective include increased posts in IP offices, e-filing facilities, major fee reduction for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, holding awareness programmes etc. However, a less discussed IP right in this context is ‘geographical indications’ (GIs).
- Despite the gradual rise in GI registrations, the role and scope of GIs in the Make in India programme has perhaps remained unnoticed in discussions.
- Considering that GI-branded goods can be made 100% in India without the need for any foreign direct investment (FDI) and that they can promote socio-economic development of the respective regions, GIs are perhaps the most ideal IP rights to foster and realise a programme like Make in India.
What needs to be done now?
- First of all, quality of such products has to be ensured. It is necessary to preserve and maintain high quality in such origin-specific goods.
- Just like the European law on the protection of names relating to agricultural goods and foodstuffs, India too should enact a law in this regard. Such a law gives a competitive advantage to producers and enables consumers to make more informed choices by providing clear information on origin-specific products and their characteristics.
- To preserve the consumer trust, the law should mandate: (i) effective verification and controls at multiple levels in the supply chain, ensuring compliance with product specification before placing it in the market and (ii) market monitoring of the use of the names to ensure legal compliance.
- Besides, the current Indian legal framework for GIs needs to be strengthened to address quality control and consumer expectations by insisting on multi-layered quality control systems as a precondition for registration.
- Still a greenhorn in GI protection, India must hand-hold producer bodies, look at successful models elsewhere and mould these to suit the ground realities of protection and enforcement in a developing country. Other important issues faced by GI producer bodies are market access and funding for enforcement and marketing.
GI Act, with a few amendments to fill the serious missing gaps described above, coupled with diligent implementation can turn into a magic wand for the Make in India programme.