Post Mortem

Biological diversity and the role of geographical indicators

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/8/2020 1:19:05 PM IST

 Biological Diversity is becoming very important day by day. Efforts are being made to conserve and preserve biodiversity all over the world. We have to create awareness of the vital importance of conserving biodiversity for the current and future benefits/applications. Mass awareness can be done by delivering lectures/interactions, through the media, internet and through Journals, brochures and magazines. 

Registers and database creation of biodiversity is of great importance. The Traditional knowledge of the local people must be taken into account, respected and protected. The endangered species can be protected by restricting or stopping exploitation of the endangered sites and areas. Plants, Animals and the small animalcules – ‘The Microorganisms’ are indispensable for the environment ecosystem cycles. The microorganisms cannot be seen by our naked eye and are thus, lesser known by the people. These unseen beneficial microbes work in association with plants and animals. They also work for us very efficiently and independently by fixing atmospheric nitrogen for good plant growth, in the production of vitamins, enzymes, medicines, in the food industry, in cleaning pollutants of crude oil sludge, pesticides and metals etc. Special and consistent efforts have to be made to conserve and preserve the rich diversity on a long-term basis. In India the Biological Diversity Act is being implemented. A National Biodiversity Authority has been set up to monitor and regulate the biodiversity. Intellectual Property Right (IPR) is an important component in the area of biological diversity. 

Unfortunately, when IPR issues are discussed stress is not given to the Geographical Indicators (GI). GI is of utmost vital importance and must be strongly addressed in the issues of IPR. The Culture Collections do have columns in their Data Sheets about the source of the culture and its isolation point. This information must be filled in and uploaded carefully whenever a culture is accepted or identified by the Culture Collection/Depository. Inclusion of GI must be given vast publicity to create awareness amongst the people. 

The Geographical Indications are the expressions or signs used to show that a product originates from a country, a region, a specific place or an environment. This is without any reputation or quality attached to it. The 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ("TRIPS Agreement") came into force in 1995, and had effect in developed countries – including the United States – as of January 1, 1996. TRIPS sets forth standards to regulate international intellectual property protection and enforcement, and establishes international minimum standards for "geographical indications." Part II, Section 3 of TRIPS, in Articles 22-24, specifies the minimum standards of protection that WTO Members must provide for geographical indications. The following examples will illustrate the importance of GI: ‘Florida’ for oranges; ‘Idaho’ for potatoes; and ‘Washington State’ for apples. Some products like Darjeeling Tea, Champagne of France, Basmati Rice of Dehradun are some other well known examples. Further, in addition to the above Appellations of the origin is used to safeguard and protect the products of regions and environment viz. Kashmiri Shawls, Cuban Cigars, Scotch Whisky etc. 

A couple of months back it was in the news that Pakistan also claimed its right on Pashmina shawls. It is interesting to note that there is an IPR row over the famous Pashmina shawls in the international market. Pashmina shawls are traditionally made in Jammu and Kashmir. This geographical region is known for making high quality Pashmina shawls due to the environmental factors specific to the state. Recently, it was in the news that hundreds of the rare goats that produce the Pashmina wool died due to starvation in the severe winter. In the winter months there is a shortage and supply problem of the fodder. This is a threat to the over one lakh goats that not only give the unique wool but also large quantities of milk to the people. To protect the claim over the shawl, the Geographical Indication Law (GIL) has to be passed by the Parliament or enacted by through the President. It is insufficient to protect GI goods by trademarks alone for claiming IP Rights. Under the WTO regulations IP Rights over the GI products can be protected by the usage of the GIL. The problem of claim over GI products becomes more complicated in close bordering states. In case of conflict the question of joint registration or separate registration arises. However, in most cases priority is given to the first applicant claiming this mode of IPR protection. The definition of GI includes appellation of origin under the TRIPS Agreement.

Recently, Darjeeling Tea has got the status of GI. The tea grown in this region has a typical flavour and aroma due to the unique soil and environmental conditions prevailing there. If the tea is taken out and planted elsewhere or some other brand of tea planted in the Darjeeling region, the characteristic aroma of the Darjeeling Tea does not show up. The altitude and humidity levels also contribute to the fine blend of characteristics. The Kangra tea of Himachal Pradesh in India has also been given the GI status. The Kangra tea like the Darjeeling tea gives the unique and specific characters only when it is grown in the Kangra valley. The famous Kullu Shawl of Himachal Pradesh in India has been registered under the GI of Goods Act 1999 as GI No. 19 by the GI Registry, Chennai. This Act safeguards the interests of the genuine Kullu Shawl weavers and producers. No one can sell or call produced outside the defined geographical territory of Kullu Valley Region of Himachal State or Kullu like shawl. 

It is interesting to note that unauthorized shopkeepers or producers cannot even use sign boards/hoardings of selling Kullu shawls. In the event if anyone is found selling fake shawls, a huge penalty is imposed on them or imprisonment of 6 months to 3 years or both under the GI Act 1999. It is interesting to note that the Dasheri mangoes have been given the GI status of India. This is in the news currently. 

Dr. Prof. Swaranjit Singh, Chandigarh


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