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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: 290
October 06, 2012

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GI Law: To protect intellectual properties

Tanzim Alam

Photo: newagebd.com

The enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things- knowledge, relationship, motivation- that distant rivals cannot match.' Michael Porter (1998)

Concerns about intellectual property rights have been amplified because of advancement of technology. Geographical Indication (GI) is one type of intellectual property which can be termed as cultural heritage property of a particular territory. The importance of local things in the global market has increased due to the legal protection of local things or products with their local essence and flavor. This is happening as a result of safeguarding geographical indications worldwide. Different countries of the world have adopted the GI law to protect their exceptional and traditional export oriented products in the global market.

Bangladesh has not enacted any Geographical Indication law yet perhaps due to the bureaucratic complexities. But in case of ascertaining intellectual property rights, it is crucial to note that- 'first in time, first in right'. By now, a report has drawn our attention published in different newspapers a few days ago concerning India's one step way ahead in the arena of protection of geographical indications. The news disclosed regretful news for Bangladesh.

India has registered Jamdani Sari (Uppada) as originating from Andhra Pradesh, the nakshi kantha from West Bengal and fazli mango from Malda district in West Bengal. Owing to the negligence of the authorities, we have lost the royalty on this fazli mango which is famous for its taste and size largely produced in the Rajshahi region. This mouth-watering mango variety is now included within the protected geographical indications of India.

A draft Geographical Indication law has been prepared but we don't know about its fate. This GI Act has listed 66 products as geographical indications of Bangladesh including fazli mango. There are other products like Hilsha from Chandpur, Khadi from Comilla, and Curd from Bogra which indicate the special geographical characteristics and reputation of these particular territories. These traditional know-how needs to be protected to fix a commercial value of these products for the betterment of position in the global market. Safeguarding geographical indications is closely related with the improvement of economic livelihood of rural people. If our products are duly protected under the geographical indication law, and its quality and other characteristics are accordingly monitored and certified by an authority, consumers will be satisfied about the product's content without any fear to be cheated.

Now the question arises what is the legal basis of protecting geographical indication. This term has been defined in a variety way. In its simplest form, Geographical Indication is a sign which recognize a link between a product's geographical origin and its reputation or quality because of that particular geography. According to the Art.22 of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), Geographical indication means ' any indication that identifies a product as originating from a particular place, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of the product are essentially attributable to its geographical origin.' When any product originates from any particular territory, it also attributes a definite quality or other reputation owing to its geographical environment. We all are familiar with Basmati rice of India and Pakistan commonly recognized for its aromatic flavor which signifies its origin. A controversy arose when USA claims patent to this variety of rice. At last, India and Pakistan has registered it as their geographical indication. Besides, Darjeeling tea is well-known worldwide for its flavor, color and essence. But countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nepal produced tea often passed off worldwide as Darjeeling tea. As a result, India has lost a huge amount of revenue from this sector. After adopting adequate legal protection by registering Darjeeling tea as India's geographical indication, this misuse has been averted. The tea regained its reputation which attracts the global consumers to pay money for a quality product even with a premium price.

Legal advancement taken by India in the field of intellectual property can be regarded as an example for Bangladesh for its development in this context. In case of Bangladesh, if we can guard our traditional products and processes from free riding and intact the quality, it will be boosted as a boon to our economic development. It will also help to enhance rural livelihood through the protection of local products and attributing commercial value to these. The handloom sector of the country is neglected though it has a glorious past. If the government can regain that position by safeguarding products made by handlooms then it will be considered as a gate to earn revenue.

Why Geographical Indication protection law is necessary? Geographical Indication law is necessary to protect intellectual properties, heritage products and also to encourage innovation. Without adequate legal protection in domestic and international arena, products identified as geographical indication of a particular territory cannot bear the true result. At present, there is no law to protect the traditional know- how or exceptional export oriented products in Bangladesh by which it can claim its geographical originality on that particular product. Bangladesh Rice Exporters Association (BREA) has urged to include Bangladesh with India and Pakistan in the joint registration of basmati rice under the geographical indication law. It claims that this variety of rice is a joint heritage of this sub-continent and it is also cultivated in the Dinajpur region commonly known as 'Banglamoti'. If there is no geographical indication protection law, we have to lose all our cultural and traditional products as the products of other origins. Our products will be alien to us for our negligence.

Bangladesh is a member of World Trade Organization (WTO) and obliged to TRIPs agreement. Without proper care to protect its traditional product and process, Bangladesh will lose a huge sum of revenue. Through the GI process, Bangladesh can accrue various benefits like market access and establish brand and goodwill of the product which will facilitate in reducing tax. It is a burning necessity to implement geographical indication protection law to preserve traditional knowledge and enhance reputation of Bangladeshi products in the global market.


The writer is Student of Law, University of Rajshahi.



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