Intellectual property refers to a type of property that is intangible and has been created by human intellect. As per World Trade Organisation, “Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.”
GI tag or geographical indication tag is a sign or certification used for products that possess certain unique features that it has acquired due to its geographic place of origin. In India, the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act of 1999 governs the GI tag. The first product to receive the tag in India was the Darjeeling tea. Karnataka with 42 GI tagged products has the highest number of these in India. Among these, almost half are handicraft products.
One of the important types of intellectual property right is the GI Tag or Geographical Indication tag. GI tag has been defined under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of WTO. In India, GI tag comes under the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act which was passed in 1999 in an attempt to ensure intellectual property rights for agricultural goods, manufactured and natural goods, textiles, handicrafts and food stuff based on certain criteria.
GI Tags and Its Use
GI tag has been defined in Article 22.1 of the TRIPS agreement as “indication which identifies a good as originating in the territory of a member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation of other characteristics of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin”. In India the Geographical Indication of Goods (Regulation and Protection) Act defined GI tag as “an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods 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 origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.” In simpler words GI tag refers to a sign or certification that is used for products having specific geographical origin and the products possess features or qualities or have a reputation due to their geographical association or place of origin. In India, the first product to receive a GI tag was the Darjeeling tea of West Bengal in 2004-05 and at present the state of Karnataka has the largest number of GI tagged products.
After Darjeeling tea, number of products have received the GI tag with the recent additions to the list being Kovilpatti kadalai mittai (sweet with long shelf life made from natural ingredients) of Tamil Nadu, Chak-Hao (the black rice of Manipur). Chak-Hao rice is characterised by its special aroma and is used during community feasts and also used as a part of traditional medicine. As per the application filed for GI tag for Chak-Hao, it takes the longest cooking time due to fibrous bran a layer and due to presence of high crude fibre.
The terracotta of Gorakhpur (a centuries old art form done with bare hands where potters make different figures with hand-applied ornamentation and use of natural colour), the Dindigul lock and Kandangi sari of Tamil Nadu, the Thanjvur Netti works (made from pith obtained from a hydrophyte plant known as Aeschynomene aspera) and Arumbavur wood carvings (made from wooden logs of Indian siris, mango, lingam tree, Indian ash tree, rosewood, neem tree) of Tamil Nadu, Panchamirtham of Tamil Nadu (first prasadam to get a GI tag) are also some of the recent addition. Other recent additions include Kandhamal Haldi (Odisha), Himachali kaala zeera (Himachal Pradesh), jeeraphool rice (Chhattisgarh), Coorg Arabica coffee (cultivated in areas spread over Andhra Pradesh and Odisha) etc. Apart from these some other notable GI tag products are Banganapalli mangoes (Andhra Pradesh), Bhalia wheat (Gujarat), Nashik valley wine (Maharashtra), Lucknow Chikan craft (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur blue pottery (Rajasthan), Kashmir pashmina (Jammu and Kashmir), Ratlami sev (Madhya Pradesh), Pattachitra (Odisha), Kashmir saffron (Jammu and Kashmir), Kolhapuri chappal (Maharashtra and Karnataka), Mizo chilli (Mizoram), Muga silk (Assam), Naga tree tomatoes (Nagaland), Alphonso mango (Maharashtra), Thanjavur Doll (Tamil Nadu), Toda Embroidery (Tamil Nadu), Thanjavur Paintings (Tamil Nadu), Kanchipuram silk sari (Tamil Nadu), Roshogolla (West Bengal), Rasagola (Odisha) etc.
GI tag authorises the user to prevent others from using GI tags on same products originating from different location. In case if a counterfeit product is being sold then the owner of product (that has received the GI tag) can take legal action against the seller. The tag provides comprehensive and effective protection to the owner by safeguarding the ownership rights. GI tag also ensures that consumers receive the authentic products having desired traits by protecting consumers from misleading information and fake products, because the tag serves as an assurance of quality and distinctiveness which have strong link with the geographical origin of the product.
Advantages of GI Tags
GI tag has number of other benefits besides protecting the rich heritage and culture of the country. As the tag ensures the authenticity and quality of a product therefore it increases the market value of the product. Consumers, who tend to link the quality and characteristics of product to their geographical origin would be attracted to GI tagged genuine products and hence increase their demand in the market. GI tags help to increase the local production because the products belonging to a particular geographic area would need the resources of that region to be made. Hence it will help India to manufacture products without any foreign investments. This is turn would enhance the local production and will bring about the economic development of the region mainly the tribal and rural areas. GI tag will also promote economic prosperity of the country by increasing demands for GI tagged goods in the national as well as in the international market. GI would also help in boosting India’s Make in India project by improving and protecting the Indian intellectual property regime and promoting local production and local industries.
India is an agrarian economy. Agriculture, textiles and food products are the major job creators in the country. Globalisation accompanied by spread of products from China has severely affected India’s farmers, artisans and the MSMEs. Traditional arts and antiques have also suffered due to rapid duplication of products and availability of alternate cheap imported products in the market. In such a scenario, focussing on GI tags will help to increase domestic production and enhance the earnings from the GI tagged products. This increase in price of products has been noticed in number of cases like the increase in price of Darjeeling tea, basmati rice, Thanjavur paintings etc after they received the GI tag. GI tag for products increases their export potential and also strengthens the position of the products in the global market thereby improving the livelihoods of farmers, artisan and weavers. Further, India is rich in art, culture, and heritage and is a home to lakhs of unique products. GI tagging of all these products will create and sustain millions of jobs by engaging people in the local industries and MSME sector for production of unique products like food items, agricultural products, fruit crops, dishes, pottery, paintings, handicrafts, textiles etc.
Effectiveness of GI Tags in India
GI tags when used effectively have the potential to boost the MSME sector, ensure employment for millions, and enhance the condition of the farmers, artisans etc and help in overall development of the economy. However, in India the GI tag and its governing rules have not been able to achieve all the results. First, GI tags have not received the required amount of attention in comparison to other intellectual property rights. As a result, India has been unable to reap the maximum benefits from GI tags. Second, a significant section of the producers, artisans, people from rural areas etc are unaware of the rights and advantages they can have through GI tags. Third, in India the quality aspect of the products has not been given due weightage as a result the deteriorating quality of the products has damaged the reputation of the GI tagged products. This has adversely affected the products even after they received the GI tags.
Fourth, the issue of market access and lack of funds for marketing of products also hampers the system of GI. Fifth, even though India has rules and guidelines in place for governing GI tagged products, the Act has been unsuccessful to prevent duplication of products. Unethical market practises like duplicate products with same name and similar features have negatively affected the genuine products with GI tags. Sixth, in India the focus on historical proof in the form of documentary evidence in order to trace the history of products before approving the GI tag has left out large number of products from receiving the tag. Because gathering documentary evidence as proof of origin for products in a country like India where oral history also holds value in certain areas serves as an unnecessary hurdle. Lastly, it has been seen that in India the scope of GI has not yet been fully exploited due to the discussed factors and also due to the reason that no such mechanism exists that monitor what happens after a product has received the tag.
GI tags can be used as a game changing opportunity in India but modification of the existing laws in order to make it more quality focussed, increasing awareness among the people regarding the benefits of GI tags, monitoring the effect after tags have been approved for products etc are some of the necessary measures needed. GI tags can be effectively used to address certain issues in India like, unemployment, deteriorating local industries and MSME sector and deteriorating condition of the rich heritage and culture of India and the rapid spread of foreign imported products.
GI tag is an important tool for protecting the intellectual property rights of owners of certain products that have features linked to their geographical place of origin. In recent times, steps have been taken in order to improve the GI system in India and the government initiatives like Make in India also helps to increase focus on domestic production and local products. However, certain key aspects like the quality of products, lack of adequate promotional activities by the government, lack of awareness among the public, absence of proper monitoring system and absence of stringent measures for preventing unethical marketing practises like duplication need to be focussed upon to increase the efficiency of GI system and ensure that India reaps maximum benefit from GI tags in social as well as economic sector.