Bangladesh has received Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Hilsa fish with effect from August 01, 2017. It is the second GI product of the country after Jamdani saree. Some equate the GI tagging to Jamdani and Hilsa with the exclusive rights of Bangladesh over the products. Many also consider the GI as legal protection of the country's heritage products globally. Such views are actually misconceived.
While GI tagging of a product ensures that its origin belongs to the area or region of a country, it doesn't provide any legal protection beyond the geographical boundary of the country instantly and automatically.
GI is a kind of intellectual property right like patent, trademark and industrial design. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the global framework for all the intellectual property rights, including GI. It is basically a sign or name used on a product that has a specific geographic origin and possesses qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), in order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. Moreover, the qualities, characteristics and reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Again, as per WIPO, GI right enables those who have the rights to use the indication to prevent its use by a third party whose product doesn't conform to the applicable standards and qualities.
GI is a collective right of the producers or farmers, not the individual right of a person or a firm like in the case of trademark or patent. Unlike trademark, the GI mark is not always visible on the products.
GI IN BANGLADESH: GI is a new area of intellectual property the country has acquired. Traditional IP-like patent or trademark has been in practice for around 100 years. But the country enacted the GI law only two years back, in 2015. The law has been framed in response to the demand of the activists and civil society organisations as they raised concern over the protection of Bangladeshi origin heritage and brand products like Jamdani Sari.
To provide inputs for developing a GI regime in the country, Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) conducted a detailed study in 2014. Two researchers of the institute, Dr. Mohammad Abu Yusuf and Seikh Ruksana Burhan, prepared the study report in which they have identified 40 agricultural and industrial products of Bangladesh for GI tagging. Some other research has also been conducted to push the GI Act.
After the approval of the GI Act, the Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) has formulated the GI rule to make the Act effective. Later in November last year, Jamdani saree received GI registration. Industry minister formally handed over the GI registration certificate to Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC). And Hilsa gets the GI tagging this month.
Acquiring a GI registration is a legal process and so it is time-consuming in nature. A representative body of the producers has to apply with proper documentation. It also requires strong historical records to establish a product's origin.
LOCAL PROTECTION: GI protection is primarily a local protection and the right is a territorial right. There is no global or international GI protection. There are two international registration systems. One is the Lisbon System which offers a means of obtaining protection for an appellation of origin (AO) among the contracting parties to the Lisbon Agreement through a single registration. (Appellation of origin is a special kind of GI and guided by stringent conditions of quality and standards.) But there are only 28 contracting parties of the Lisbon System so far and one can get GI protection in these countries only at a time. Moreover, the contracting parties are not legally bound to provide GI registrations simultaneously to the applicant country. Some may reject the application on some valid ground.
Secondly, the Madrid System provides option for a single application to register any trademark in 115 countries at a time. It is, however, the jurisdiction of the individual countries to grant the application or not. Though the system is primarily applicable for trademarks, GI tag as a collective or certification mark can also get registration through it.
The issue of global protection emerged as a critical area in Bangladesh mainly due to India's GI tagging of some varieties of mangos as well as Nakshi Kantha and Jamdani sarees. India provides GI registration to Laxman Bhog, Khirsapati (Himsagar) and Fazli Mango of West Bengal. Of these, Fazli Mango is registered as mango grown in the Maldha district of West Bengal. But Fazli Mango is also grown in Rajshahi and Chapai Nababganj districts of Bangladesh. Now, registration as GI in India doesn't mean that Bangladesh can't register Fazli Mango as its own product. There are 'homonymous' GIs which may be applicable for Fazli Mango. WIPO defines homonymous GIs as those that are spelled or pronounced alike, but which identify products originating in different places, usually in different countries.
In a similar vein, Indian GI tagging of 'Uppada Jamdani Sarees' did not prevent Bangladesh to get registration of 'Jamdani Saree' as the first Bangladeshi GI product. There are differences in the characteristics of Bangladeshi and Indian Jamdani sarees. Now, the GI mark will help the consumers in the international market to distinguish between Jamdani sarees originating from the two countries.
India has already registered Nakshi Kantha as a GI product of West Bengal. Bangladesh is also under process to obtain GI tag for its Nakshi Kantha.
THE CORE BENEFIT: The core benefit of GI is the opening up the scope of branding, as mentioned by Sanowar Hossain, Registrar of DPDT, while talking with the FE. He pointed out that as GI couldn't be duplicated, the branding value was high for any GI product. He explained that through GI, legal proprietorship and authorised users of certain product could be ensured.
GI products cannot be produced without maintaining certain standards. Moreover, GI products have to follow a common packaging with the certification mark or logo of GI. All these add value to the brand.
GI tagging opens up the door of global branding for a product. It is mainly due to the quality and standards reflected in GI tagging.
A GI product is basically a product with premium price for its uniqueness and high quality. Now the producers of Bangladeshi Jamdani and Hilsa can ask for higher prices in the international market because of the GI tag.
Branding is a continuous and innovative process. It is the way by which a manufacturer wants to establish the image of the product to the consumers. So, it requires some investment. It is the responsibility of the manufactures, the private sector to be precise, to do the branding for their products in order to benefit from GI labelling.