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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 192
October 30, 2010

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Rights relating to geographical indications

Mohammad Yusuf Ali

On 2 May 2010 a letter issued by the Patent, Designs and Trademark Department under the Ministry of Industries urged all the Deputy Commissioners' office to make the list of products or processes (if the product is a processed one) that could be protected as Geographical Indications (GI) rights. It reveals the country's eagerness for protection of GI. In the context when several Multinational Companies and developed countries are claiming rights over indigenous products, plants, processes related with production etc. The issuance of such a letter bears a lot of significance. This write up is an attempt to identify the nature and scope of GI protection regime. It also highlights on politics in international arena about protection of GI. Then it concludes with some general recommendations.

What is GI?
Geographical Indications (GI) identifies the specific geographical origin of a product, and the associated qualities or other characteristics. They are usually named after the place of the origin. They refer to the superior quality of product or process related with production of the product if it is a manufactured one. For example, Fazli (a species of mango) of Rajshahi is known to have superior quality than other species of mangoes in Bangladesh. It is a GI for the species of mango. The immense economic implication associated with this species of mango seeks to prevent other producers of mango in other region of Bangladesh to use the term in case of business. This is a GI right. The Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement defined GI right as the exclusionary rights for the indicator which identify the goods originated within the member nation's territories, or area or region of that territory, where the reputation or other attributes of the goods is essentially related to the geographic origin of the place. The agreement in Article 22 emphasises on the obligations of the government for providing legal opportunities within their territories for safeguarding GI use and curbing it's misappropriate use.

Why GI?
Having protected by the international legal it is viewed as one the valuable business tools. It has created stimuli among the countries and corporations to establish GI right over various products. For example, India and Pakistan joined hands to obtain a joint GI registration for Basmati rice in 2004. This has happened in the event of a lurking threat of private companies in the United States marketing Basmati like rice. It is pertinent to mention here that income accrued from the India's basmati exports has risen to Rs 35.48 billion during 2007 to 2008, from Rs 24.82 billion in the previous year. So any dilution of quality of Basmati rice by any unwarranted registration would prove detrimental to India's economic interest affecting revenue earning.

Convinced by the enormous economic prospect of GI India has adopted measures to protect her GI right in national and international level. Nationally, India has got the Geographical Indication of goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 and the GI of goods (Regulation and Protection) Rules, 2002; both of them providing for procedures and requirements for GI registration. Internationally, India along with countries like Pakistan, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc. led by European Union; is propagating for extension of GIs from current wines and spirits. Such extension of GIs would embrace a broader range of agricultural produce and processed foods. They are advocating for the creation of an international system for the listing of GIs where all the members of WTO would be required to submit their GIs for registration. Countries like Australia, Japan etc. are against the extension as they think that this would contradict the prevailing trademark system and result in higher price.

Prospect of GI
However, the extension, as it is believed, would result in greater economic prospect for Asian countries particularly as they are rich in biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, favourable atmosphere to bring a lot of agricultural produce, processed foods etc. Basmati rice, Kashmiri Shal, Batik, Nakshi Kantha, Darjeeling Tea, Persian Galicha (carpet) etc. are some examples of Asian aesthetic and agricultural products worthy of being protected as GI goods. Hundreds of items can follow the lists. Again, extension of GIs beyond wines and spirits shall reduce the costs of trademark registration for the businessmen of developing countries. For, trademark is a private right requiring its holder to get it distinctively registered in countries where it is to be traded. Unlike, trademark GI is a national right and the single international system of GI registration could serve the purpose well. GI extension shall also stimulate the indigenous knowledge to be disclosed and traded in the world market, as it is likely to make the recognition of indigenous knowledge easier.

Bangladesh context
Notable here that countries like India, Pakistan, Cuba, Thailand which are in favour of extension of GIs, have more or less same social, cultural, economic base like Bangladesh, if not a bit ahead in terms of economy. Bangladesh does not produce much wines and spirits to register as GI while it has a lot of agricultural produce worthy of getting GI status. So, inference can be easily drawn that extension of GIs would certainly benefit Bangladesh. So, Bangladesh should avail the benefit. To maximise the benefit Bangladesh needs to do the following thing:

-Enacting laws, rules for national protection of GI. Existence of a national protection regime can be used as a reference for securing international protection.

-Enlisting and categorize the products and processes that she desires to protect as GI.

-Joining in international forum with the countries that are in favour of GI extension.

-Popularising unique agricultural and handmade products so as to attract the customers worldwide. In this regard, wide publicity and exhibition of products like Jamdani Saree of Dhaka, Nakshi Kantha of Faridpur, Monipuri clothes, Khadi of Comilla, Hilsha of Chandpur, Fazli (mango) of Rajshahi, curd (doi) of Bogra, etc. can be the best choices for Bangladesh.

-Plants and herbs such as Basak, Tulsi, Sarpaganda, Neem, etc. that are used for drug for production should be declared as GI so that we can claim royalty from foreign companies using those for drug production.

Concluding Remarks
Like most other Asian countries Bangladesh is blessed with biodiversity, cultural heritage, handicrafts, indigenous knowledge. The extension of GI protection from current scheme is likely to benefit countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Being a close of these countries and having a lot of things in common Bangladesh is also predicted to be the beneficiary of such extension. It is high time we adopted appropriate measures to maximise the benefits.

The writer is Assistant Commissioner, DC Office, Hobigonj.




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