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Protecting Place, Product And Tradition: Geographical Indication Protection In India

Geographical Indication (GI) protection is pivotal in safeguarding products uniquely tied to their place of origin, fostering cultural heritage, and ensuring consumer authenticity. This abstract explores the multifaceted aspects of GI, emphasizing the interplay of natural and human factors in shaping distinctiveness. Examining international agreements such as TRIPS and the Lisbon Agreement underscores the global importance of GIs.

In the Indian context, the historical background reveals the catalyst for its GI legislation, exemplified by the Basmati dispute. The rationale for GI protection is outlined, emphasizing its role in acknowledging collective traditions, rewarding tradition with ongoing evaluation, and highlighting the intricate relationship between human efforts, culture, land resources, and environment.

Functions of GIs include identification, quality assurance, and promotion. The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, serves as India's framework for GI registration, involving a meticulous process with provisions for opposition. Furthermore, the application of GIs to goods, prohibition criteria, penalties for infringement, and civil remedies are explored. Judicial involvement and administrative bodies like the Geographical Indications Registry contribute to the effective enforcement of GI protection in India.

Geographical Indication [1](GI) is a vital concept in the world of intellectual property and trade, as it plays a crucial role in protecting and promoting products with unique qualities and reputations that are closely tied to their place of origin. GI serves as a certification that certain goods are linked to a specific country, region, or locality and possess distinctive characteristics that are a result of their geographical environment, encompassing both natural and human factors.

Geographical indications often owe their distinctiveness to a combination of natural elements, such as the quality of raw materials, the composition of the soil, regional climate patterns, temperature variations, moisture levels, and even topographical features. These factors shape the unique attributes of products and contribute significantly to their identity.[2]

In addition to natural elements, human activities and practices in a particular region can also be instrumental in defining the qualities and characteristics of products. Concentrations of specialized businesses in a specific area, longstanding traditions of crafting certain items, and the adherence to strict quality standards are among the human factors that contribute to the reputation of goods under a GI.[3] For instance, when you hear the term "Champagne" and its association with the district of Champagne in France, it immediately conjures images of the renowned sparkling wine produced there.

This is a prime example of how a GI can evoke a strong connection between a product and its place of origin. France, in fact, was a pioneering country in the protection of GIs, with the introduction of the French "appellation d'origine" legislation in the 20th century, starting with the law of 1919.[4] This legislation recognized geographical indications as a form of collective intellectual property and provided legal protection to ensure the authenticity and quality of products associated with specific regions.[5]

Internationally, efforts have been made to standardize and protect GIs. The Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration in 1958 is a notable example. This agreement aims to safeguard appellations of origin, which are defined as geographical names of countries, regions, or localities used to designate products originating from these places.

To qualify as a GI under this agreement, products must meet specific criteria:[6]
Distinctive Characteristics
The quality and characteristics of the product should be primarily or exclusively influenced by the geographic environment, encompassing both natural and human factors.[7]

Geographic Origin
The reputation, quality, or other essential characteristics of the product must be fundamentally linked to its geographical origin.

On a global scale, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) also recognizes the importance of geographical indications.[8] TRIPS defines geographical indications as indicators that identify a product as originating from a particular territory, where a particular quality, reputation, or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.[9]

Therefore, Geographical Indications serve as a powerful tool for preserving cultural heritage, promoting regional development, and safeguarding consumers by ensuring the authenticity and quality of products associated with specific geographic areas. They not only protect the interests of producers but also enrich the global marketplace with a diverse array of unique and high-quality goods, each carrying the essence of its place of origin.

Historical Background of Geographical Indication Law in India
Before 1999, India did not have specific legislation addressing geographical indications adequately. Despite being a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), India did not enact a dedicated law on geographical indications until 1999.

The Basmati controversy in 1997 played a pivotal role in raising awareness about the importance of protecting geographical indications in India.[10] This dispute involved the use of the term "Basmati" to describe rice varieties, with implications for the reputation and economic interests of the region associated with genuine Basmati rice production.[11] This controversy highlighted the need for legal mechanisms to safeguard the interests of producers and regions.

In response to such challenges and recognizing the significance of protecting GIs, India eventually enacted legislation to provide legal protection for geographical indications, ensuring the preservation of traditional knowledge, the promotion of regional products, and the prevention of misappropriation and misuse of these valuable designations.[12] This legal framework has since played a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of Indian producers and preserving the authenticity of regional products, including Basmati rice, Darjeeling tea, and many others.

Rationale for Protecting Geographical Indications
Geographical indications (GIs) are a crucial aspect of intellectual property rights that serve several important functions, primarily focused on benefiting indigenous and local communities while promoting fairness and geographical inclusion. Here are the key reasons for protecting geographical indications:
  1. Collective Tradition and Decision-Making Process
  2. :
    GIs are often based on collective traditions and decision-making processes within specific geographical regions.[13] These traditions reflect the shared knowledge, expertise, and cultural heritage of local communities. Protecting GIs ensures that the benefits of these traditions are preserved and shared among the community members.
  3. Rewarding Tradition with Continued Evaluation
  4. :
    GIs reward and acknowledge the rich traditions of a region while allowing for ongoing evaluation and improvement. By recognizing the unique qualities associated with a particular place of origin, GIs encourage producers to maintain and enhance traditional practices, ensuring the continued authenticity and quality of their products.
  5. Emphasizing the Relationship Between Human Efforts, Culture, Land Resources, and Environment
  6. :
    GIs highlight the close connection between human efforts, cultural practices, the local environment, and the land's resources. They showcase how these elements collectively contribute to the unique characteristics and qualities of products from a specific region. Protecting GIs acknowledges and preserves this holistic relationship.
  7. Non-transferability
  8. :
    GIs are not freely transferable from one owner to another. This non-transferability ensures that the benefits of GI protection remain within the region of origin and directly benefit the local producers and communities.[14] It prevents individuals or entities outside the region from exploiting the GI without contributing to the region's development and sustainability.

Functions of Geographical Indications:
Geographical indications serve a range of functions that are essential for the well-being of producers, consumers, and the regions they represent:

GIs identify goods as originating from a specific territory, region, or locality. This clarity helps consumers make informed choices and recognize the authenticity of products tied to their place of origin.

Quality Assurance
GIs suggest to consumers that goods from a particular area possess certain quality, reputation, or other characteristics inherently linked to their geographical origin. This assurance fosters trust and encourages consumers to choose these products for their known qualities.

GIs promote the goods of producers from a particular geographical area. By highlighting the unique attributes and cultural heritage associated with these products, GIs can boost sales and demand, ultimately benefiting the local economy.[15]

The Geographical Indication Registry in India serves as the linchpin for the implementation and enforcement of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act of 1999. Under the jurisdiction of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trademarks, this registry shoulders the vital responsibility of managing the registration and safeguarding of geographical indications (GIs).[16] Several key facets define its operational framework.

First, the appointment of a Registrar of Geographical Indications, often occupied by the Controller-General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks, ensures a seamless integration of trademark and GI-related matters. Second, the Central Government has the authority to appoint officers who assist the Registrar in executing GI-related functions, promoting efficiency, and specialization. Third, the establishment of the Geographical Indications Registry, headquartered in Chennai with branch offices, extends its reach and accessibility for stakeholders across the nation.

The official seal of this registry serves as a symbol of authenticity and authority, authenticating certificates and documentation associated with GI registration and protection. In essence, the Geographical Indication Registry plays a central role in preserving and celebrating the unique heritage tied to GIs, bolstering economic development, and fostering equitable trade practices across India. It stands as a testament to India's dedication to conserving its cultural and agricultural diversity while facilitating responsible and sustainable commerce.[17]

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act lays out a comprehensive framework for the registration and protection of geographical indications (GIs) in India.[18] It also defines the criteria for prohibiting the registration of certain GIs. These prohibitions are crucial to maintain the integrity and authenticity of GIs and protect against misuse or confusion. Here are the key points regarding the prohibition of registration of certain geographical indications:

Likelihood of Confusion
Section 9 of the Act prohibits the registration of GIs that are likely to deceive or cause confusion among consumers. This provision aims to prevent the registration of GIs that may mislead consumers regarding the origin or characteristics of goods.[19]

Contrary to Law
GIs that are in conflict with existing laws cannot be registered. This provision ensures that GIs do not violate any legal provisions or regulations.

Scandalous or Obscene Marks
Geographical indications that contain scandalous or obscene elements or marks are ineligible for registration. This prohibition maintains the dignity and decorum of registered GIs.

Religious Sensibilities
GIs that are likely to hurt the religious susceptibilities of Indian citizens are not allowed for registration. This safeguard protects the religious and cultural sentiments of the population.

Generic Names
GIs that are considered generic names or have lost their protection in their country of origin due to generic use cannot be registered. Generic names are common terms used to describe products and cannot be monopolized.[20]

False Representations
GIs that make false representations about the origin, quality, or other characteristics of goods are prohibited from registration. This ensures that consumers are not misled by misleading GIs.

The registration process for GIs involves submitting an application to the Registrar of Geographical Indications. This application can be made by any association of persons, producers, or organizations representing the interests of the concerned goods. The applicant must be a legal entity and demonstrate that they represent the interests of the producers of the goods.[21]

The application for registration must contain various details, including a statement describing how the geographical indication serves to designate the goods' origin, the class of goods it applies to, a geographical map of the territory of origin, particulars about the appearance of the GI, information about the producers of the goods, and other prescribed particulars.[22]

Furthermore, the Act allows for the filing of a single application for different classes of goods, reducing paperwork and expediting the processing of applications. Once an application is submitted, it undergoes examination by the Registrar, who may accept it, refuse it, or require certain amendments or modifications.[23]

After acceptance, the Registrar advertises the application, allowing interested parties to oppose the registration within a specified timeframe. Opposition to registration is allowed to ensure that the rights and interests of all stakeholders are considered and protected.[24]

Thus, the Act establishes clear guidelines and prohibitions for the registration of geographical indications in India, with a focus on preventing confusion, respecting legal requirements, and upholding cultural and religious sensitivities. The registration process involves a thorough examination, advertisement, and provision for opposition to ensure the integrity of geographical indications.[25]

The application of geographical indications (GIs) to goods is a critical aspect of protecting the authenticity and origin of products. Section 37 of the Geographical Indications of Goods Act, 1999, elucidates what constitutes the application of a geographical indication to goods:

Direct Application to Goods
This involves physically applying the geographical indication directly to the goods themselves. For example, labeling wine bottles with the name of the region where the grapes were grown.

Application to Packaging
GIs can also be applied to any package or container in or on which the goods are sold, exported for sale, or held in possession for sale or trade purposes. This includes labels, tags, and packaging materials that bear the GI.[26]

Combining with Goods
If a person combines, endorses, or attaches any goods to packaging or other items to which a geographical indication has been applied, it is considered an application of that GI. This ensures that any associated items maintain the GI's integrity.

Misleading Use
Using a GI in any way that could reasonably lead to the belief that the goods are designated or described by that GI is prohibited. This prevents misleading marketing and labeling practices.

Commercial Documents
GIs must also be respected in commercial documents. Any sign, advertisement, invoice, catalog, business letter, price list, or other commercial document related to goods, where the GI is referenced, must adhere to the GI's proper usage.[27]

Section 39 of the Act outlines penalties for offenses related to geographical indications:

Individuals found falsifying any geographical indications or falsely applying GIs to goods can face legal action.

Possession of Instruments
Possession of equipment or instruments intended for falsifying GIs is also a punishable offense.

False Indication of Origin
Applying a false indication of the country or place of origin, or the name and address of the manufacturer, as required by Section 71, is an offense.

Tampering with, altering, or erasing an indication of origin on goods where it is required is prohibited. The severity of penalties depends on the nature of the offense and whether it is a first-time or subsequent conviction. A person found guilty of these offenses can face imprisonment for a term ranging from 3 to 6 years and a fine not less than INR 50,000, which may extend up to INR 2 lakhs.

Subsequent convictions can result in enhanced penalties, including imprisonment for a term of 1 to 3 years and a fine ranging from INR 1 lakh to INR 2 lakhs.[28] These provisions ensure that the integrity of geographical indications is upheld, discouraging fraudulent practices and protecting the reputation and authenticity of products associated with specific regions or origins.

Geographical Indications (GIs) are a form of intellectual property that is vital for protecting products with unique geographical origins and characteristics. In India, as in many other countries, there are legal mechanisms in place to safeguard GIs and provide remedies for their infringement.

Infringement and Passing Off
GI infringement occurs when a party uses a registered GI that is identical or deceptively similar to another's registered GI without authorization.[29] Passing off is a related concept where a party misrepresents their goods or services as being associated with a particular GI. Legal remedies are available to address both infringement and passing off situations.[30]

Civil Remedies
Parties seeking to enforce their GI rights in India can resort to civil remedies. These remedies are designed to protect the interests of the GI holder and include:

The court can issue temporary or permanent injunctions to prevent the unauthorized use of a GI. This is a powerful tool to immediately stop the infringing activity.

GI holders can seek monetary compensation for any losses they have suffered due to the infringement. This could cover financial harm caused by the unauthorized use of their GI.

Account of Profits
In cases of infringement, the court can also order an account of profits. This means that the infringing party may be required to provide an account of the profits they have earned from the unauthorized use of the GI, which can then be awarded to the rightful GI holder.

These civil remedies are essential for ensuring that GIs are protected effectively, and they provide a strong deterrent against unauthorized use.[31]

Role of Judiciary
The role of the judiciary in India is paramount when it comes to resolving intellectual property disputes related to Geographical Indications (GIs). Courts serve as the final arbiter in these matters, and they fulfill several crucial functions in the protection of GIs.[32]

Adjudicating Disputes
When disputes arise concerning the unauthorized use of GIs or instances of passing off, it is the judiciary's responsibility to hear these cases and make legal determinations. This includes assessing whether there has been an infringement of GI rights and deciding on appropriate remedies.[33]

Granting Remedies
The judiciary has the authority to grant remedies to GI holders. These remedies can include issuing injunctions to stop the unauthorized use of a GI, awarding damages to compensate for losses suffered due to infringement, and ordering an account of profits earned by the infringing party. These measures are essential for deterring unauthorized use and compensating rightful GI holders.

Interpreting and Applying Laws
Courts are responsible for interpreting and applying relevant laws and regulations related to GIs. They provide legal clarity on the scope of GI protection, the criteria for infringement, and the rights of GI holders. Their decisions set important precedents for future cases.

Ensuring Fairness
The judiciary plays a crucial role in ensuring fairness in GI disputes. They weigh the evidence, consider legal arguments, and make impartial decisions that protect the interests of both GI holders and consumers. This fairness is essential for maintaining trust in the legal system.

Setting Legal Precedents
Judicial decisions in GI cases establish legal precedents that guide future cases. These precedents contribute to the development of jurisprudence in the field of GIs and provide clarity on legal standards and principles. In addition to the judiciary, India, like many other countries, has a dedicated administrative body known as the Geographical Indications Registry. This registry is responsible for the registration and administration of GIs. Its functions complement those of the judiciary in the following ways:


The Geographical Indications Registry manages the registration process for GIs. It maintains a record of registered GIs, which serves as official documentation of their protection.

Facilitating Legal Processes
The registry plays a crucial role in facilitating legal processes related to GIs. It assists GI holders in the registration process, handles documentation, and provides information to stakeholders involved in GI protection.

Record Keeping
Maintaining a comprehensive record of registered GIs is vital for tracking and enforcing GI protection. This record ensures that GI holders can easily demonstrate their rights when needed.

Hence, the judiciary and administrative bodies like the Geographical Indications Registry work in tandem to ensure the effective enforcement of GI protection in India. These measures are not only essential for safeguarding GIs but also for preserving the cultural and economic value of products associated with specific geographical origins. They contribute to the integrity of the intellectual property system and promote fairness in trade practices.

  1. VK Ahuja, 'Protection of Geographical Indications: National and International Perspective' (2004) 46 Journal of the Indian Law Institute 269.
  2. Nicole Coutrelis and Pierre Yves Corre, 'The Protection of a Name Registered as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) under the Simplified Procedure against a Trade Mark' (2011) 6 European Food and Feed Law Review 116.
  3. Ahuja (n 2).
  4. Kalliopi Dani, 'Geographical Indications', Community Collective Marks: Status, Scope and Rivals in the European Signs Landscape (1st edn, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH 2014) accessed 2 September 2023.
  5. Marsha Simone Cadogan, 'Making Agricultural and Food-Based Geographical Indications Work in Canada' (Centre for International Governance Innovation 2018) accessed 2 September 2023.
  6. Graham Dutfield, 'Geographical Indications and Their Feasibility' (International Institute for Environment and Development 2011) accessed 2 September 2023.
  7. id.
  8. ibid.
  9. ibid.
  10. Dani (n 5).
  11. id.
  12. Coutrelis and Corre (n 3).
  13. ibid.
  14. Marsha A Echols, 'Geographical Indications for Foods, Trips and the Doha Development Agenda' (2003) 47 Journal of African Law 199.
  15. Michael Handler, 'The WTO Geographical Indications Dispute' (2006) 69 The Modern Law Review 70.
  16. Dutfield (n 7).
  17. Echols (n 15).
  18. Coutrelis and Corre (n 3).
  19. Echols (n 15).
  20. Handler (n 16).
  21. ibid.
  22. Hazel Moir, 'Geographical Indications: An Assessment of EU Treaty Demands' in Annmarie Elijah and others (eds), Australia, the European Union and the New Trade Agenda (ANU Press 2017) accessed 2 September 2023.
  23. Dani (n 5).
  24. Echols (n 15).
  25. Ahuja (n 2).
  26. Daniel Gervais, 'Traditional Innovation and the Ongoing Debate on the Protection of Geographical Indications' in Peter Drahos and Susy Frankel (eds), Indigenous Peoples' Innovation (ANU Press 2012) accessed 2 September 2023.
  27. Cadogan (n 6).
  28. Ahuja (n 2).
  29. id.
  30. Coutrelis and Corre (n 3).
  31. Dutfield (n 7).

Written By: Bhagyamma G. Ph.D.
Scholar (Law) University of Mysore & Assistant Professor Sarada Vilas Law College, Krishnamurthy Puram, Mysore, Karnataka, India 570004
Email: [email protected]

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