A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods. Agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign is recognized as a geographical indication is a matter of national law. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of products, whether natural, agricultural or manufactured.
How does a geographical indication do ?
A geographical indication points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product which originates from that place. It is important that the product derives its qualities and reputation from that place. Since those qualities depend on the place of production, a specific “link” exists between the products and their original place of production.
Why do geographical indications need protection?
Geographical indications are understood by consumers to denote the origin and the quality of products. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operators. False use of geographical indications by unauthorized parties is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers. Consumers are deceived into believing that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, when they are in fact getting an imitation. Legitimate producers are deprived of valuable business and the established reputation of their products is damaged.
How are geographical indications protected?
Geographical indications are protected in accordance with international treaties and national laws under a wide range of concepts, including –
- special laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin
- trademark laws in the form of collective marks or certification marks
- laws against unfair competition
- consumer protection laws, or
- specific laws or decrees that recognize individual geographical indications.
In essence, unauthorized parties may not use a geographical indication in respect of products that do not originate in the place designated by that indication. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing the unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.
Geographical indications protecti0n at International level
A number of treaties administered by WIPO provide for the protection of geographical indications, most notably the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration. In addition, Articles 22 to 24 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) deal with the international protection of geographical indications within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Bangladesh is planning to contest India’s GI (Geographical Indication) registration of Jamdani sarees, Fazli mangoes and Nakshi Kantha (a kind of hand-stitch on old fabric).
“We recently got to know that India has registered these items as its own. We are drafting a law in this regard (there is no GI law in Bangladesh), after which we will contest India’s claim,” said TaranaHalim, a lawyer and Awami League MP, who is visiting India as part of a Parliamentary delegation.
Halim said India had registered Uppada Jamdani saree as originating from Andhra Pradesh, the Fazli mango from Malda in West Bengal and Nakshi Kantha also from West Bengal. “India stands to get a premium price for these products whereas these are originally from Bangladesh,” said Halim, who is involved in drafting the law concerned.
“Not signing the Teesta water agreement in September 2011 was a huge embarrassment for the Bangladesh Government and for India,” senior Awami League leader, Tofail Ahmed, said. He urged India to revisit the Teesta treaty as well as the land boundary agreement, but with a time-frame. “We value our friendly relations with India, “which got affected by internal conflict” within the UPA at that time, he added. In September 2011, the Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh, had to refrain from signing the Teesta agreement, as West Bengal Chief Minister, then a UPA ally, refused to accompany him to Dhaka as she felt she had been ‘left out’ when the crucial agreement was being finalized by the Centre.
Let us first consider jamdani, a handloom product. About 300 A.D. Kautilya, in his book Arthashastra, referred to this fine cloth and said it was made in Pundra (now Bangladesh). Arab, Chinese and Italian traders had also given detailed account of this fabric coming from what is now Bangladesh. Around that time a similar fabric was made in Mosul, Iraq, called Mousoulin. The Arab geographer Sulaiman mentions that Mousoulin fabric was developed simultaneously in Bengal and was called muslin. In his well known book Sril Silat-ut-Tawarikh he wrote jamdani design was stitched on muslin fabric in Rumy, which is the ancient name of Bangladesh.
When the Morrocan traveler Ibn Batuta visited Bangladesh in the 14th century he also saw the jamdani made here and praised its quality. An English traveler, Ralph Finch, also spoke highly about muslin and jamdani made in Sonargoan, near Dhaka. The fabric, however, attained its zenith during the reign of Akbar, the great Mughal Emperor. It had by then become such a sought after item that the British East India Company who came in later had to post a high official in Dhaka to buy mulmulkhas. He was called the “Daroga-Mulmul.” He was commissioned to also supervise the production of jamdani in each weaving factory.
The word jamdani is Persian, where “jam” means cup and “dani“ means flower vase.
Now let us take the case of the nakshi kantha, another exclusive Bangladeshi product. Poet Jasimuddin wrote his famous “Nakshi Kanthar Math” in 1929. Through this poem, the art form that had originated in the villages of Bangladesh became known to the world for the first time. The kantha is made out of old saris, lungis and dhotis. At least 5-7 saris usually make a standard size kantha or quilt. They are sewn together to attain the size and the layers required. The needle and thread is used to outline a design followed by focal points. The filling motif is then worked on. The designs are usually flowers, undulating vines, images of birds and fish, animals, etc. No two are the same. Each nakshi kantha is unique and often tells a tale. Nakshi kantha is quintessentially Bangladeshi.
The third product registered by India under the GI Act is the fazli mango. The Indians consider this mango variety as being indigenous to Bihar and West Bengal. It is a late maturing (August) fruit and is large with firm to soft flesh. The flavor is pleasant and the pulp is sweet and fibreless. Its keeping quality is good. But what about Bangladeshi Fazli mangos?
In our national anthem, penned by no other than poet Rabindranath Tagore, the beauty of Sonar (Golden) Bangla is described when he writes: “In Falgun (March) your mango gardens spread maddening aroma.” Mango is, therefore, in the mind of every Bangladeshi. It occupies a special place in our food, literature and culture. The best variety of mango grown here is the fazli, which is grown in the Rajshahi region. But it is grown mainly for domestic consumption. There are virtually no exports. The world, therefore, is unaware that we are a producer of this mouth-watering variety. Due to asymmetric information, India could have taken advantage and registered it as their GI.
It is time that our ministries of industries, agriculture and commerce, separately and together, under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office, start identifying products that originate in Bangladesh and which need to be urgently registered under the GI Act. But in order to do that, we need to first enact a GI protection law and frame rules under it. It is imperative however that we identify now some of the products which we could call as our own. Some of them that could find a place in our registry is the jamdani sari of Dhaka, the naskhi kantha from Faridpur, Monipuri clothes, khadi of Comilla, hilsa fish from Chandpur, the fazli mango of Rajshahi, curd of Bogra, dogs from Sarail in Brahmanbaria as well as honey from our Sunderban forest. We have to move fast in our effort to prevent some other country from listing our unique products and calling them their own. Any affirmative action by our government in such matters will therefore be welcome. Coleridge had once said: “Silence does not always mark wisdom.” We must heed his advice in this case.