The domain of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) assumes a paramount position in shaping the economic landscape of nations. Within this realm, Geographical Indications (GI) have emerged as a subject of heightened significance in recent times. A distinctive facet of intellectual property, GIs bestow recognition upon products emanating from specific geographical regions, imbuing them with unique qualities, reputation, and characteristics intrinsically tied to their geographic origins. In this academic endeavor, we embark upon an insightful exploration of the legal dimensions encompassing GIs, with a specific focus on their transformative impact in cultivating vibrant local economies, nurturing the growth of rural communities, and captivating tourists seeking authentic and exceptional encounters.
Central to the global economic discourse, the preservation of GIs takes center stage, bolstered by an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of safeguarding these invaluable products. Our study delves into the legal mechanisms underpinning GI protection, diligently assessing their efficacy in safeguarding the interests of both producers and consumers. Through this scholarly voyage, we gain profound insights into how Geographical Indications emerge as catalysts, fostering economic prosperity at the grassroots level, fostering sustainable rural development, and summoning the allure of tourism for those seeking genuine and unparalleled experiences.
Role Of GIs In Promoting Local Economies, Rural Development, And Tourism
- Promoting Local Economies
GIs play a crucial role in the development of local economies by conferring a competitive advantage to locally produced goods. Products with GI tags command higher prices due to their distinctiveness and association with specific regions. This enhanced market positioning leads to increased demand, job creation, and a positive impact on the overall economy of the region. We witness successful examples of GIs in various sectors, where products like Champagne, Darjeeling tea, and Kona coffee have significantly boosted local economies through branding and tourism promotion.[i]
- Supporting Rural Development
The significance of GIs extends to supporting rural development by providing financial aid to small- and traditional-scale producers. In regions where large-scale producers dominate the global market, GIs provide a lifeline to preserve traditional knowledge, practices, and skills that have been passed down through generations. This preservation fosters a sense of continuity and connection to the land, leading to sustainable rural development. GIs can be a catalyst for the growth of rural communities, ensuring responsible use of natural resources and promoting economic prosperity.
- Promoting Tourism
The allure of GIs also lies in their potential to boost tourism in specific regions. Tourists seek distinctive and authentic experiences, and GIs can provide just that. Products labeled with GIs become attractions in themselves, drawing visitors who are keen on understanding the cultural heritage, history, and customs associated with the region. As seen in the Champagne and Kona coffee industries, tourism based on GIs generates economic benefits by attracting visitors and stimulating the development of necessary tourism infrastructure.
The Champagne region in France serves as an exemplary case study of the successful protection and promotion of a GI. The term “Champagne” is protected as a GI, allowing only sparkling wine produced within the region and adhering to specified guidelines to be labeled as such.[ii] This protection has preserved the quality and reputation of Champagne, attracting numerous tourists to experience the vineyards and taste the authentic sparkling wine. The Champagne sector’s efforts in promoting the region through tourism have led to substantial economic gains for the area.
Further, in India, the protection of “Darjeeling tea”[iii] as a GI has been instrumental in safeguarding the tea’s reputation and supporting the livelihoods of local tea producers. Adequate GI protection has prevented dishonest businesses from misusing the Darjeeling brand and selling tea produced outside the region under its name. The protection and promotion of Darjeeling tea have contributed significantly to the region’s economic growth, thanks to increased tourism and enhanced product demand.
Lastly, Hawaii’s Kona coffee industry is a remarkable success story of GI protection and promotion. The term “Kona” is protected as a GI, ensuring that only coffee grown in the region adhering to strict production regulations can be labeled as Kona coffee.[iv] The industry’s emphasis on community cooperation, stringent quality control, and effective marketing, especially through tourism promotion, has enhanced the reputation of Kona coffee and bolstered the region’s economy.
Challenges Associated With GI Protection
The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (Act 48 of 1999) came into force in India with effect from 15 September 2003. This Act promises to provide adequate protection to the producers of GI goods, protect consumers from deception, and promote goods bearing GI in the export market. However, several inadequacies in this act need to be addressed:
- Lengthy GI Registration Process
The GI registration process in India involves significant time lags, from application and scrutiny to final registration. Numerous GI registration cases are pending in India, discouraging producers from registering their GI products.
For instance, the GI registration process for Darjeeling Tea[v] faced significant delays due to multiple applications, conflicting interests, and objections raised by various stakeholders. Despite its initial application in 2004, the GI registration was granted only in 2011, a lengthy process of seven years. The delay caused challenges in protecting the tea’s exclusive identity, allowing for unauthorized use of the Darjeeling name by non-authorized producers.
Furthermore, in the case of Alphonso Mangoes, commonly known as “Hapus,”[vi] which are famous for their rich flavor and sweetness, hailing from specific regions of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Karnataka, the GI registration process encountered delays due to administrative backlog and prolonged examination periods. The application, filed in 2010, took over six years for registration, affecting the ability of farmers and producers to capitalize on the unique GI tag, leading to challenges in maintaining market exclusivity.[vii]
Even the GI registration process for Nagpur Orange faced delays owing to inadequate documentation and the need for additional data verification. Despite the application being filed in 2004, the registration was granted in 2017, taking thirteen years to complete. The prolonged process hampered the collective efforts of local farmers to market the fruit under its GI identity, impacting their economic gains.[viii]
- Challenges with Enforcement
The absence of worldwide GI protection harmonization leads to administrative and legal issues in effectively implementing GIs. Insufficient resources and qualified personnel in some nations make it challenging to enforce GIs effectively.
Limited awareness among stakeholders, as seen in the “Darjeeling tea” case, hampers effective enforcement. Inadequate infrastructure, exemplified by the lack of testing facilities in the “Banarasi sarees” case, impedes proper monitoring.[ix] Complex legal processes, evident in the prolonged “Basmati rice” dispute, discourage GI registration. Counterfeiting, illustrated by the “Alphonso mango” case, dilutes GI authenticity. Inconsistent inter-agency coordination, seen in the “Kanchipuram silk sarees” case, weakens enforcement efforts. The “Pashmina shawls” case highlights the need for enhanced international cooperation against cross-border misuse. Addressing these challenges through awareness campaigns, improved infrastructure, streamlined legal procedures, inter-agency collaboration, and international partnerships is vital to preserve India’s unique products’ integrity and cultural heritage.
- Digital Piracy Challenges
Digital piracy of GIs is a significant issue in the digital age. Infringers can easily copy and distribute GI-protected products, leading to challenges in preventing and identifying infringers. Technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, can improve enforcement efforts.
The digital landscape’s borderless nature amplifies issues such as the unregulated dissemination of GI-protected products, hampering their regional uniqueness. Surveillance complexities arise due to the anonymity offered by online platforms, exacerbating the unauthorized distribution of GIs. This phenomenon erodes product authenticity and consumer trust. Real-life cases underscore these challenges – Darjeeling tea faces counterfeit sales online, Pashmina shawls’ genuineness is compromised through digital imitations, and Alphonso mangoes’ premium status is jeopardized. Effective strategies to counter digital piracy entail collaborating with e-commerce platforms, instituting digital authentication mechanisms, and initiating awareness campaigns. These measures are critical to ensuring the resilience of GIs against the growing threat of digital piracy and maintaining their cultural and economic significance.
Apart from these three crucial points which breach the threshold, some deeply rooted, although not fully grown (due to which they go unnoticed) challenges also stem in the Indian GI atmosphere. For instance, there is no agency available to monitor the post-GI mechanism in India, further undermining the protection of GIs.
Reforming Legal Frameworks For Gi Protection
To address the challenges associated with GI protection, several reforms can be implemented:
- Simplifying Registration Processes
To encourage more producers to register their GI products, the registration processes should be streamlined, made simpler, and supported by online registration facilities. Simplification will help minimize time and cost barriers, benefiting small and medium-sized manufacturers.
Streamlining Geographical Indication (GI) registration enhances accessibility, fostering broader participation among producers, particularly small-scale ones, and promoting the preservation of cultural heritage. An efficient registration process reduces bureaucratic complexities, saving time and resources for both applicants and authorities. This approach encourages authenticity by incentivizing producers to engage in formal protection systems, discouraging counterfeits, and facilitating transparency.
Moreover, simplified GI registration aligns with global trends, aiding international recognition and collaboration. It nurtures innovation within traditional practices, driving economic growth by fostering local industries, creating jobs, and boosting tourism through the promotion of regionally distinctive products. While maintaining vigilance against misuse is vital, a balanced simplification approach can unlock the potential benefits of broader participation and robust Geographical Indication protection.
- Enhancing Enforcement Methods
Improving GI enforcement requires upgrading tools and training for enforcement agents, imposing stricter penalties for violators, and enhancing information sharing and cross-border collaboration among enforcement agencies.
Consider the case of Pashmina, a luxurious wool fabric renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship from the Kashmir region. Despite being a well-recognized GI, counterfeit Pashmina products flood the market, eroding its value and negatively impacting the local artisans’ livelihoods.
- Tools and Training: Authorities can equip enforcement agents with advanced technology such as portable spectrometers for on-the-spot authenticity checks. Training sessions could educate officers on distinguishing genuine Pashmina from fakes by analyzing fiber composition and traditional weaving techniques.
- Stricter Penalties: Implementing heftier fines and penalties for producers and traders found guilty of Pashmina counterfeiting would deter illicit activities. These penalties could be aligned with the economic harm inflicted on the local community and the reputation of the GI.
- Information Sharing: Creating a centralized database that compiles information on Pashmina-related infringements, investigations, and convictions can aid agencies in tracking trends and patterns. This data-sharing mechanism assists enforcement agencies in making informed decisions and targeting their efforts effectively.
- Cross-Border Collaboration: Pashmina’s global recognition necessitates cooperation between countries in combating counterfeit products. Collaborative efforts among enforcement agencies across borders can prevent the proliferation of fake Pashmina goods in international markets.
- Addressing Digital Piracy
To combat digital piracy effectively, the legal mechanisms for GI protection should be modernized. This includes holding digital platform providers accountable for hosting infringing content, providing legal tools for recognizing and removing infringing content, and implementing technical safeguards to prevent digital piracy.
For example, the protection of “Champagne” GI faces threats from counterfeit versions online. Modernized legal approaches would hold platforms accountable for hosting fake champagne products, deterring them from aiding counterfeit distribution. Swift removal of infringing content is also vital. “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” a GI cheese, could benefit from efficient takedown procedures, promptly removing unauthorized products from digital platforms.[x]
Additionally, integrating blockchain or similar technology provides technical safeguards. Customers can trust the authenticity of “Darjeeling Tea” online through blockchain verification. Overall, modernizing legal frameworks is pivotal in safeguarding GIs from digital piracy, and preserving cultural heritage and economic value.
- Enhancing Legal Protection
Legal mechanisms for GI protection should be reinforced to provide broader protection and coordinate international efforts for robust GI protection. The example of Champagne underscores that robust legal protection extends beyond national borders. Effective mechanisms should encompass stringent enforcement, proper registration processes, and international cooperation. This ensures that products bearing GIs retain their quality, authenticity, and cultural heritage associated with their places of origin, benefitting both producers and consumers alike.
Geographical Indications (GIs) have emerged as powerful tools to promote local economies, support rural development, and boost tourism. By conferring distinctiveness and authenticity to products, GIs foster economic growth and cultural preservation in regions around the world. The successful case studies of Champagne, Darjeeling tea, and Kona coffee illustrate how GI protection and promotion can significantly impact local economies and attract tourists seeking unique experiences.
To ensure the continued success of GIs, governments, producers, and stakeholders must collaborate and prioritize the protection and promotion of these geographical indications. By implementing reforms in legal frameworks, simplifying registration processes, embracing technology for enforcement, and raising public awareness, regions can harness the potential of GIs to preserve cultural heritage, promote sustainable development, and foster economic prosperity. With a coordinated approach, Geographical Indications can continue to play a pivotal role in promoting the economic, social, and cultural growth of regions worldwide.
[i] Mishra, Abhishek. “Can Geographical Indications Support the Indian Village Economy Impacted by the Ongoing Economic Crisis Caused by COVID-19?”, 9(2) BRICS Law Journal 121–144 (2022).
[ii] Jay, Tim and Taylor, Madeline. “A case of champagne: a study of geographical indications“, July 2013.
[iii] Srivastava, S.C.. “Protecting the geographical indication for Darjeeling tea”, 10.1017/CBO9781139030526.017.
[iv] Varnis, Steven. “Extended Protection of Geographical Indications for Coffee: Could It Benefit Coffee Farmers and the Environment? Trade and the Environment”, Academia (2006).
[v] Thatavarthi, Gayathri. “Darjeeling Tea – First GI Tag in India” Caleidoscope, https://www.caleidoscope.in/art-culture/darjeeling-tea-first-gi-tag-in-india.
[vi] Pandit, Niraj. “Five years on, how GI tag failed Hapus”, Hindustan Times, April 30, 2023. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/alphonso-mango-farmers-struggle-despite-gi-tag-rampant-adulteration-and-lack-of-enforcement-jeopardize-livelihoods-101682796591108.html
[vii] Biswas, Parthasarathi. “Battle for recognition: Ratnagiri’s struggle for GI tags for Alphonso mangoes and the road ahead” The Indian Express. October 6, 2020. Accessed August 6, 2023. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/battle-for-recognition-ratnagiris-struggle-for-gi-tags-for-alphonso-mangoes-and-the-road-ahead-8532238/.
[viii] Srivastav, Snehlata, “Nagpur Orange on a Roll”, The Times of India, April 27, 2014, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/nagpur-orange-on-a-roll/articleshow/34268152.cms.
[x] Gerini, Oreste. “The Protection Of GIs On The (E-)Market”, Worldwide Symposium on Geographical Indications, July 3, 2019.
Himanshu is a 4th-year student of B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) program at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, India. His research interests lie in the fields of public international law and constitutional law.
Vibha is currently enrolled in the law program at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, India. She intends to join her state’s judiciary, and therefore all her professional endeavors are towards understanding and bringing forth the rights of the people.