By Dharmendra Lambha, School of Law, UPES, Dehradun.

The concept of the Geographical Indication has developed its importance in recent years especially after the adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) in 1994, which contains a section on geographical indications (GIs). Since then it has attracted attention from producers, trade negotiators, economists, and lawyers.

A geographical indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Most commonly, a GI consists of the name of the place of origin of the good, such as Darjeeling Tea, Scotch, Benarsi Saree, Kullu Shawl, etc. Symbols commonly associated with a place, can also constitute a GI.

Moreover, in order to work as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. The qualities or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a link between the product and its original place of production.

A majority of GIs throughout the world are applied to agricultural products, because they typically have qualities that they derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local and geographical factors, such as climate and soil. However, geographical indication is not limited to agricultural products alone, it can also highlight specific qualities of the product due to the skills of the persons found in that particular place of the origin of the product, like Chanderi Saree for Textile, Solapur Chaddar for Textiles, Kullu Shawl for Textiles, Bidriware for Handicrafts, Channapatna Toys & Dolls for Handicrafts, Mysore Traditional Paintings for Paintings, etc.

Most of the time, people get confused between trademark and geographical indications. Both convey information about the origin of a good or service, and enable consumers to associate a particular quality with a good or service but trademarks help consumers associate a good or service with a specific quality or reputation, based on information about the company responsible for producing or offering it, while Geographical Indications identify a good as originating from a particular place and consumers may associate a good with a particular quality, characteristic or reputation. Further, a trademark can be assigned or licensed to anyone, anywhere in the world and can be used by its owner or any other person authorised to do so, while a Geographical Indication corresponds to the name of the place of origin of the good or to the name by which the good is known in that place and it may be used by all the persons who, in the area of origin, produce the good according to specified standards.

A Geographical Indication has many benefits attached to it. It serves as a differentiation tool in marketing strategies; consumers pay more attention to the origin of the product and look for specific characteristics in the product that they buy. In some cases, the “place of origin” suggests to consumers that the product will have a particular quality or characteristic that they may value. Often, consumers are prepared to pay more for such products. This has favoured the development of specific markets for products with certain characteristics linked to their place of origin.

GIs can contribute to development in rural areas as GI products tend to generate a premium brand price; they contribute to creation of local employment, which ultimately may help to prevent rural migration. In addition, GI products often have important spin-off effects, for example in the areas of tourism and gastronomy. Geographical Indications may bring value to a region not only in terms of jobs and higher income, but also by promoting the region as a whole.

Geographical Indications also help to preserve the traditional cultures of the regional areas as products identified by a GI are often the result of traditional processes and knowledge carried forward by a community in a particular region from generation to generation. Some products identified by a GI may symbolize characteristic elements of the traditional artistic heritage developed in a given region, known as “traditional cultural expressions”. This is particularly true for tangible products such as handicrafts, made using natural resources and having qualities derived from their geographical origin.

India is a country which is vastly diverse and there are many products which are only produced in particular regions of India, thus it become very important to protect the Geographical Indications effectively. Prior to 1999, there was no separate legislation on Geographical Indications but in compliance with India’s obligations under the TRIPS Agreement 1994, The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 was enacted.

In India, any association of persons, producers, organization or authority established by or under the law, can apply for a GI, the conditions which they have to follow are:

The applicant must represent the interest of the producers;

The application should be in writing in the prescribed form;

The application should be addressed to the Registrar of Geographical Indications along with the prescribed fee.

Due to globalisation of the world economies and developing new technologies, the chances of the infringement of Intellectual Property Rights have increased several times. Intellectual Property Rights have never been more economically and politically important or controversial than they are today. Patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications are frequently mentioned in discussions and debates on such diverse topics as public health, food security, education, trade, industrial policy, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, biotechnology, the Internet, the entertainment and media industries. In a knowledge based economy, there is no doubt that an understanding of IPRs is indispensable to informed policy making in all areas of human development. Geographical Indications is an emerging field in the domain of Intellectual Property. Every region has its claim to fame and it has to be protected.