Advocate P Sanjai Gandhi – The Geographic Indication Act expert

Tell us about your background.
I was a law student from 1993-98. After my law course, I enrolled myself and began working as a practicing advocate, since the year 2000.
Then, from April of 2000 till date I have focussed my practice on intellectual property law. Based on the intellectual property law, I have tried putting efforts into some of the Indian traditional products. Therefore, I have dedicated myself to the study of intellectual property law for 19 years and using this I helped the agricultural field.

What is it that got you interested to focus on GI?
The intellectual property rules, trademark, patent, operate and competition law and other rules are in place when it comes to this space. One of the rules on geographic indication goods is Production for Society People Act. This act helps common people and therefore I chose this act.
The Geographic Indication Act helps the entire community and village, and everybody in the agricultural sector. The GI act is a community act and that is why I got interested in it.

Why is GI tag so important to the agricultural industry?
Generally, the GI act is an international arbitration. Every member country should create a GI Act. India also created this act in 1999.
For India, agriculture is very important. By agriculture I mean, horticulture, handloom, handloom goods, food goods and handicraft goods. GI act helps people dealing with agricultural goods. This is the reason for me to give importance to agricultural-related goods in GI Act.
All agricultural goods cannot be awarded with a GI tag. Goods to be awarded GI tags should be outstanding in terms of quality, reputation, special characteristics, etc. For example, Basmati Rice is one of the most famous GI goods in India.
Now, Ponni Rice already has trademark registered in Malaysia. India won their biggest sales. They have successfully removed it from the Malaysia trademark registry and now it is registered under farm production GI act.

Who is eligible to apply for a GI tag?
Individuals cannot file a GI application. The Government organizations, agricultural bodies, agriculture related associations, NGO dealing with agricultural goods, etc. can file for GI.

How does an organisation benefit from a GI tag?
There are many NGOs that file for GI successfully. After that what is the role of the NGO? The role is to maintain the quality for the entire area. For example, in case of agricultural products, the GI has to do with a concerned area. All individuals can benefit after registration.
New variety crops cannot be granted a GI tag as the tag stands for quality, uniqueness, special characters, historical objects etc. It is not that anything that is cultivated is eligible for a GI tag. To attain a GI tag, the product should have been cultivated in India for years together after the GI is done. So, the first thing is GI cannot be granted for new variety crops.
Now, once a GI is granted, it is registered for the computerised name only. So, other people cannot utilize the name already taken. Therefore, name can be used only by the registered holder. This can result in improvement in export rates and price increment is also possible.

Is Kanjeepuram Sarees part of GI registration?
Yes, Kanjeepuram Saree is a successfully GI registered product. 10 years ago, I successfully registered the department of handloom textiles. After registering the department of handloom textiles, Part B also was successfully registered. That is, 21 societies of Kanjeepuram Weavers alone are registered.
Now, other societies producing these sarees- their products cannot be called Kanjeeepuram Sarees. Only Kanjeepuram Weavers’ product can now be called Kanjeepuram Sarees. And that is how they benefitted.
Owing to GI tags, consumers can keep away from the duplicate versions of Kanjeepuram Sarees. It legalizes products and the names given to products, without ambiguity. The original registered producers can also increase the value of the product.
That now only the 21 registered societies use the name Kanjeepuram to sell their sarees, is a huge advantage that the GI tag brought in. It is the same for agricultural crops.
For example, 7 states cultivate Basmati Rice. Only the rice produced in these 7 states can now utilize the name Basmati for selling their product. Rice coming from Tamil Nadu for instance cannot utilize the name Basmati rice for selling their product. They can cultivate any other type of rice. They cannot cultivate the Basmati varieties.

What if someone else, other than the 21 societies, sells sarees as Kanjeepuram?
Civil and criminal actions can be invoked. Anybody can complain against the people at fault. That way the complaint gets registered and filed. They can also be fined.

What is the difference between Intellectual Property rice and the GI tag?
Imagine a huge umbrella of laws. In that umbrella there are lot of rules like trademark, corporate, trade fest, GI, technology act. All of these acts together are called as Intellectual Property Law.
Currently, Ponni rice doesn’t feature under the Intellectual Property Law. My suggestion for Ponni rice is that for some areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh that cultivates Ponni rice, it should be registered. I have already researched about this.
If any NGO or agricultural farm approaches me with this matter, I am ready to help them get the Ponni Rice registered under the GI Act. Unfortunately, till date, nobody has approached me with respect to Ponni Rice.

Why have they not approached you, given the advantages of the procedure?
See, any agricultural association should approach me and express that they want to get Ponni Rice registered under the GI Act. Till date there has been no NGO/association/agriculturist who has approached me on this note. So, there is nothing I can do as an individual.

What are the requisites before applying for a GI tag?
First of all, only association/societies can file for a GI tag. Therefore, there should be associations urging farmers to come to an agreement and a lot of authorisation letters should reach me. The thing is, individuals cannot file for a GI tag. If some association approaches me I can facilitate all it takes to get the registration done.

What all papers must the association submit to you before they can go ahead with this?
If one of the associations approaches the concerned agriculturists, get the signature to gain the authorization of the association.

How many agriculturists should sign their consent?
For Ponni Rice, for example, we have to find the area in which it is being cultivated. The association should first do their homework. After that, we need a minimum area in which it is being cultivated and get signature from those agriculturists.
After that, the next stage is to attain statistics of the entire property and product – the cultivation area, the uniqueness of Ponni rice, the special characteristic of Ponni rice, the historical origin of Ponni rice, the duration for which it has been cultivated in India with historical evidence, the authenticity of the records, the cultivation process from sowing to harvest, etc.
The association should do all this research and submit the relevant papers to me. If they submit all this I am ready to help with the entire process. The case should be filed within one month. Honestly, I am ready to help in these matters without any payment, for my expertise.
Also, I didn’t mean it just for Ponni rice; I am ready to make my contribution in this matter for any product across India. If we have all the information we need, I am ready to file for GI and successfully hand out the consent to the agriculturists.

So, we can tell our readers they can approach you with all the information?
Yes, Sir. You can give your readers my name and mobile phone number. Any agriculturist can utilize it.
Once they get the GI tag, it is a great value all for them, and this is a motivation for other farmers to cultivate that produce.

Where do you go and file for a GI tag?
Once we have all the information, they should approach the GI organisation through a recognised GI attorney.
The process is done at Chennai.

Is this an Indian organization or is it an International body?
This is an Indian organization. Having said that, once you get the Indian GI sanctioned, their product can go to every country. In every country there needs to be a separate registration.

So we don’t have to apply in all the countries, is it?
We should identify which all countries we need to export the product. For example, Darjeeling tea is marketable in all countries. So, it is globally registered.
Our Ponni Rice, for instance, is very famous in South Asia. It is very popular in Malaysia, Singapore, etc. Many Malaysians and other South Asians make unauthorised usage of Ponni rice. Therefore, the Indian GI body can go to each country and get the registration done separately.

Suppose, for instance, farmers cultivating Ponni rice get the registration done in India. Then, what if somebody from another country fights that the GI tag cannot be given to them?
No, if they haven’t registered they cannot interfere. It is not easy.

In the recent case of Lays Potatoes, the Indian farmers who cultivated the potatoes for Lays argued that those were some special kind of potatoes. Is this a similar case?
This is not GI act but a plant variety farmer protection right. The GI variety was registered under one of the companies. So, farmer rights got affected. My suggestion was that those potatoes were registered under plant variety and farmer protection rights. That is not similar to GI tags. These are two separate acts. This potato case comes under the Seeds and Plants Act.

What benefit does the seed act give farmers?
It gives farmers full protection. In fact it is stronger or equally strong as the GI Act. In fact, in Bangalore itself, we have a unit, where they have already got about 40 different products GI registered. This unit is in HSR Layout and it has been there for the last 5-6 years. They are doing a lot of good work.

So, the Bangalore office also does GI tags?
No, there is only one office and that is in Chennai for all over India. Bangalore office may take up products and they may register it through the Chennai unit.
I wonder why these GI tags are not getting highly popular!
It has already taken shape for certain products like Malabar Black Pepper, Udupi Brinjal, etc. But farmers don’t have the funds and capacity, and they do not know much about this facility and its benefits. Even if they are aware of GI tags, they do not have information about whom to contact and how they can go about it.
Awareness needs to be created. In the Malanad areas, there are lots of traditional coffee planters and other fruit cultivators who can take advantage of this, given the uniqueness of the products they grow.
We need to do research, target them, and give them the proper guidance of how this can be done and why it should be done. The more awareness we create, the more people will come forward.

Is there a registration fee to get these products GI registered?
The government fees for GI registration is Rs. 5000/- for a product. Besides this there is no other fee.
In the 19 years that I have worked on this, I haven’t collected a fee for myself, when it comes to GI tags. I have filed the GI application for Samba Rice. Hopefully, it will be registered soon.
We have so many products in India that are eligible for GI registration. I am ready to help anyone in India who wish to get a GI tag registered.
I am all for tackling legal issues that will help build a better space for agricultural goods. India needs to develop in the agricultural sector and we are doing better each day.
In the European countries, there is a lot of importance given to agricultural products. We should have that in India as well. This is the sole reason that I have dedicated 20 years of my career towards this. Unfortunately, I haven’t got the kind of response that there should be.

If an NGO registers for one crop, is this like some trademark that they alone can hold on to?
Let me explain. The trademark goes to individuals but GI goes to the entire community. You have to keep in mind that not all NGOs deal with agricultural goods.
The concerned NGO can only apply for GI tags for the goods they deal with. For example, an agricultural NGO in the Kaveri Delta area can apply for GI for Jeera Samba rice, because that is an area where Samba rice grows.

P. Sanjai Gandhi
Intellectual Property Attorney,
YMIA Bldg, 2nd line Beach Road,
49, Moore St, Parrys
Chennai – 600001
Tamil Nadu, India
Phone : 9840622474