“A Geographical Indication (GI) is a sign identifying a good as originating in a specific geographical area and possessing a given quality, reputation or another characteristic that is essentially attributable to that geographical origin”. Accordingly, the main purpose of a GI is to establish an association between the quality, characteristics, or reputation of a good and its territory of origin. Although foodstuffs or agro products are usually where GIs tend to find most usage, it also extends to other items for example Swiss watches (Switzerland) or Bohemia Crystals (Czech Republic). 

Consumers pay increasing attention to the geographical origin of products and care about specific characteristics present in the products they buy. Geographical indications bear information pertaining to the origin-bound characteristics of a particular product. They, therefore, function as product differentiators by allowing potential customers to differentiate between products with geographical origin-based characteristics and others without. GIs can thus be a key element in developing brands for quality-bound-to-origin products/gi registration in Delhi.

India-US Basmati Rice Dispute

Facts of the Case:

  • On September 2, 1997, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued Patent number 5663484 to RiceTec Inc. on Basmati rice lines and grains. Previously, the Texas based company had been trying to step foot into the International basmati rice market using terms like ‘Kasmati’ and ‘Texmati’. However, it later introduced a ‘novel’ form of basmati by interbreeding Basmati with another variety and named it as American Basmati.
  • The granting of the patent was opposed by an Indian NGO – Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology who subsequently filed legal petitions against it in the US. Another NGO namely Centre for Food Safety, which mainly advocated against forms of bio-piracy, also raised objections to the patent/copyright registration lawyers in delhi
  • They had raised objections as to the patent granted to RiceTec which. allowed them to use the terms ‘Basmati’ and ‘Jasmine’ rice; the former originating from India and Pakistan whilst the latter originated from Thailand.
  • After consideration and assimilating all the evidence, in June of 2000, the Indian Government officially challenged the patent in the USPTO. 

Main Issues Raised:

In the course of this dispute, various questions were raised pertaining to patents, bio-piracy, and geographical Indications especially keeping in mind the rights of developing nations. A few of the main contentions were as follows:

  • Whether the term ‘basmati’ is a generic one to describe aromatic rice, or does it refer specifically to the long aromatic rice grown in India and Pakistan?
  • Whether the strain developed by RiceTec is a novel one?
  • Whether RiceTec is guilty of bio-piracy?
  • Whether the USPTOs’ decision to grant a patent for the prized Basmati rice violates the terms contained within the International Treaty on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)?
  • Whether the basmati patent should be revoked?

Case Analysis:

India contended that 75% of all rice imports in the US were from Thailand and the rest was from India and Pakistan and these varieties of rice are unable to be grown in the US. The patent was challenged on the fact that these varieties of rice already exist as a staple in India, Thailand, and Pakistan, and as such, they are not novel or an invention and is based on the imports from the abovementioned countries and as such the patent should not have been granted in the first place and should be considered null and void. Furthermore, India also contested the use of the term ‘Basmati’ in connection with the patent and further marketing of the rice as such usage serves to be detrimental to the goodwill and image of rice that is grown and exported from India/Online Trademark registration for start up.