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Geographical indication? Not for everyone!

How does a variety of tea or sweets qualify as a Geographical Indication (GI)? The question assumes significance since several Indian companies and associations have recently applied for GI status to the Registrar of Geographical Indications in Chennai for their products.

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: December 13, 2009

How does a variety of tea or sweets qualify as a Geographical Indication (GI)? The question assumes significance since several Indian companies and associations have recently applied for GI status to the Registrar of Geographical Indications in Chennai for their products.

The latest in the list is Bambino Agro Industries, which now wants GI status for the Bambino brand of vermicelli, claiming that it’s the largest producer of vermicelli in Asia. Others such as the makers of Tirupati Laddoo have also applied for a GI status. Earlier in 2005, Reliance Industries had made a similar application for both the Krishna-Godavari (K-G) fields and the Jamnagar refinery. They have now withdrawn the applications.

“It is important that applicants understand the basic principles surrounding GI (See box),” says Latha R. Nair, Partner, K&S Partners. Nair’s firm currently advises the Government of India on the protection of various GI issues, including that of Basmati and Darjeeling Tea.

So, how should one go about applying for a GI status? To begin with, every applicant is allotted a number by the registrar’s office. Thereafter, a group of experts ascertains the correctness of the particulars furnished. Once a report is submitted and no objections raised by anyone within three months, the application is accepted.

However, as Nair says, stakeholders need to be gathered on a common platform to ensure that a GI status brings in economic benefits for the region. Otherwise the registration remains a paper tiger.

Admitting that GI applications in India have seen a spurt in recent years, intellectual property (IP) experts feel if the Registry had done its job in checking applications at an early stage, many applications wouldn’t have dragged on for years.

There has been a spurt in GI applications in recent years, the latest being Bambino Agro Industries, which wants GI status for its vermicelli.

GI can be filed only by an association of producers representing a common interest. A public limited company with monopolistic interest and no historical link to the region doesn’t qualify.

One needs to build sufficient historical evidence. In case of the Darjeeling Tea application, gazetteers dating back to several decades were filed which referred to tea cultivation in the region.

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