Explained: Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

The month of May 2020 proved to be promising for the farmers of Kashmir as Kashmiri Saffron finally became an indigenous product fortunate enough to receive a GI tag. Kashmir’s Department of Agriculture was granted a Certificate of Registration by the Registrar of Geographical Indications acting under the orders of the Central Government for districts of Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar, and Kishtwar. This was achieved after much contention from the farmers and agriculturists of Kashmir, who aimed to highlight the excellent quality of their produce.   

The Director Agriculture in Kashmir, Mr. Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, is the registered proprietor of the GI tag aided by the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology along with the Saffron Research Station Dusso Pampore J&K. The Saffron Research Station at Dusso Pampore in Pulwama has been equipped with all the facilities that are required to maintain the quality of the product and protect its distinctive features.

All this was done under the purview of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act,1999, which was introduced as a sui generis law by the Indian government in pursuit of protecting intellectual property rights. As a member of the World Trade Organization, India decided to take a distinctive approach to the implementation of the provisions under the TRIPS agreement, and thus the Parliament introduced the GI Act in 1999, four years after the international law came into effect. 

Such a unique law particularly gave effect to Articles 22 and 23 under the TRIPS agreement, which provides for local regulations in pursuit of developing laws relating to geographical indication. According to the provisions in the Act, a Geographical Indication tag can be provided upon registration and will be valid for a period of 10 years along with the option to renew the same from time to time. 

Significance of this development: – 

There are two vital aspects surrounding this phenomenon, which consist of the business benefits that come as a result of the GI tag and the symbolic importance that follows. In terms of financial perks, the GI tag has the potential to bring about overall economic prosperity to the product.

 The mere fact that Kashmiri Saffron has been registered under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, is a major selling point on its own as it acts as a testament of the superior quality and uniqueness of the product. 

Director Altaf Aijaz Andrabi – while talking about marketing benefits – stated that it would motivate the producers to expand their business on a global scale. It would also augment exports and provide adequate wages for farmers and producers to earn their reward.

Without legal protection and recognition, Kashmiri Saffron was generalized with the lower standard of products and thus had to compete with them in the market, which meant that the producers could not afford to charge a premium despite the distinctiveness of their produce. Thankfully, official recognition on a national plane tackles this predicament efficiently.    

Historically, the cultivation of saffron in Kashmir has been traced back to the 1st Century BCE and owes its rich aroma to the perfect cultivation environment, which rests at 1600m to 1800m above sea level. There are three sub-categories of Kashmiri Saffron, namely, Laccha, Mongra, and Gucchi Saffron. All these characteristics contribute to its phenomenal quality to the extent that it is considered to be the best saffron produced in the world.  

Salient features of the Act: –  

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, has been considered to be one of a kind as it departs from its inspiration in a major way. Instead of being a carbon copy of the TRIPS agreement, which focused mainly on wines and spirits, the Act constitutes flexibility in the range of products that are determined by the government. Overall, it lays the foundation for intellectual property rights in India and helps in ensuring a proper mechanism for implementing its provisions along with a redressal system in cases of violation.

Key features: –  

  • It seamlessly lays out the process of registering a Geographical Indication tag for a product or a commodity.  
  • The Act constitutes a registry for products and commodities, which includes information regarding the classification it is under, the year it was registered in, and the state of origin.   
  • It provides clarity on crucial concepts such as ‘authorized user’ as well as ‘registered proprietor’ by defining these terms in an intelligible manner.  
  • The Act delivers a high level of protection to goods that have been notified or registered under it.  
  • It acts as an authoritative factor against people infringing on the registered products or violating their integrity in any other way.   
  • It sanctions the use of a registered product by an authorized owner while invalidating any other utilization without the consent of the owner.  
  • A registered owner can also seek out legal protection in other member-states of the World Trade Organization.  
  • The aftermath of registration has the potential of bringing about economic benefits for the producers as well as raising the product’s status quo in the market. 

Prohibition of registration of certain geographical indications: –   

While the Act does have the potential to provide legal protection to numerous products with distinctive features, it also lays down the criteria for the products which cannot be recognized under the same. This provision has been laid out in Section 9 of the Act which prohibits products from being registered for a geographical indication on various grounds such as:  

  • Products that are aimed at confusing or deceiving the consumers;  
  • Goods or services that are libelous or indecent in nature;   
  • Anything that is likely to cause injury or hurt religious sentiments of a particular community;   
  • Products that are misrepresented as being from another area of origin in order to raise their status quo in the market;
  • Finally, goods that indicate common names or objects to be preserved in an area of origin even if the product is not in use in said area.  

Objectives and purposes: –  

The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, is accurately called a sui generis legislation as it remains unprecedented when talking in terms of domestic law. The Act’s principal aim is to provide worldwide recognition to a deserving product that would ultimately benefit its producers and marketers.   

The legislation primarily focuses on consumer awareness as it bestows a metaphorical mark of authority upon the superior or distinctive product so as to let the people know of its features if and when they purchase it. This also makes people more willing towards paying a premium for the product as it would augment their status in society. It is also a common pattern that most products with a GI tag are organically produced, which makes it safer in comparison to its competition.

The existence of the Act itself makes India one of the countries that has adopted international law in a hostile manner to enforce its principles and provisions. This, in turn, raises India’s status with respect to Intellectual Property Rights across an international stage. 

Apart from providing legitimacy to a particularly unique product, the law symbolizes and recognizes the good’s superiority over other products in the same category and prevents it from being generalized with them. A perfect example is the case of Kashmiri Saffron itself as it was previously considered to be on par with lower quality saffron produced in Iran or Spain, and thus the producers could not avail any benefits despite their hard work and determination behind making a superior product.  

Moreover, the Act is solely responsible for providing a system of redressal and remedy for the aggrieved victims of GI infringement. This includes sanctioning the owner’s rights concerning the registered product. For instance, the owner or the registered proprietor has a right to sue the person who has violated his/her exclusive right over the product. 

Critical analysis: –  

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, has facilitated the registration of over 360 products in the course of 21 years. This has not only led to financial prosperity and increased exports but has also helped in preserving traditional knowledge of an indigenous product. It can be safely assumed that the legislation has been successful so far in achieving its goal of securing the exclusive rights of a unique product with its producers.  

Furthermore, the law is complemented by its subsequent legislation, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002. These rules clarify any and all ambiguities pertaining to Geographical Indications law in India. The administrative backing behind the law is also well defined and has been modernized, as all the departments have accessible online portals.   

However, the true potential of Geographical Indications has still not been fully realized in India. The procedure of registering a GI tag for a product may be turning obsolete, when we look at its contemporary processes on an international scale. Thailand, for instance, has come up with an innovative GI logo that represented the exclusivity of a registered product. Implementing such an idea in India would also help raise awareness regarding Geographical Indications as well as IPR laws in India. 

Recent developments under the Act stand as a testament to its relevance in today’s world. With the campaign for the creation of a GI logo already in place, the awareness regarding the law will only increase, which will only help in the progress of IPR laws in India. Therefore, it can be said that while the law has had a successful run, there remains the right amount of space for improvement. 

Conclusion: –  

Recently, the Kashmiri Saffron was recognized as a distinctive product through the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection), 1999, due to its superior quality and its place of origin. The Act was implemented in pursuance of fulfilling the obligations of the TRIPS agreement as India is a member state of the World Trade Organization. The TRIPS agreement is considered to be the flagship conference on Geographical Indications, which forms a crucial part of Intellectual Property Rights across the globe.

This essentially means that Kashmiri Saffron’s producers will be able to take advantage of the legitimization of its uniqueness in the market. It also presents a sense of symbolism as it raises the product’s status quo with respect to its contemporary products. To sum up, the legislation acts as a reference point in disputes that arise in the court of law. It can be considered to be one of the most successful adoptions of international law into domestic law. 

Author: Amitabh Abhijit from National Law Institute University, Bhopal.

Editor: Avani Laad from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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