With the advent of globalization, there have been developments in almost every field and sector being social and legal. In recent decades, the realm of Intellectual Property Rights has also included geographical indications for a legal appropriate protection to their natural and traditional products based on the place of origin of that product. The protection of these traditional products has been included under the regime of Intellectual property because the products were under a threat of losing their own identity. The recognition of Geographical Indications has its compliance with Article 22.1 of the TRIPS Agreement has stated Geographical indications as signs for the identification of goods of a particular origin and subsequently providing protection to it.
With respect to India, geographical indications have been a unique form of intellectual property rights from the perspective of trade, development, and social culture heritage. It has been considered as the most efficient and dynamic dimension of intellectual property rights for developing countries as it has the capability of contributing to the development of rural areas. Geographical indications act as a mechanism for helping the producers for differentiating their products which would let them fetch a premium price. With the increase in the protection related to goods of different origins, there has also been a rise in infringement of registered geographical indication through illegal use and exploitation.
The issue occurs when the already registered geographical indications are used by the third parties with a mala fide intention of causing exploitation of the registered geographical indications. The law governing the protection of geographical indications in India has been that of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. Section 22 of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 has prescribed the laws related to the infringement of registered geographical indications. It states that if the original owner or the proprietor of the registered geographical indications uses those registered products in a place other than that of their true origin, which may cause public deceit and confusion and the use of such a GI could also act as unfair competition with respect to a registered GI. The fundamental essentials for proving the act of infringement are:
- If the person, who is the rival party or competitor of the party commits any mala fide act or practice thereby causing public deceit and confusion concerning the already registered product.
- If the person brings false allegations or claims against the proprietor of the registered GI with the purpose of defaming and discrediting the original product.
- If the person misuses the characteristics and other essentials of the registered Geographical indications.
- If the person uses the registered geographical indications as an act of unfair competition.
The original owner or the proprietor of the registered geographical indications has the power for filing a suit against the infringer in case he causes infringement to the registered geographical indications. The remedies can be claimed under Section 67 of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 in the form of civil remedies and criminal remedies. The civil remedies can be in the form of injunction and damages. Criminal remedies can be claimed under Chapter VIII of the Act.
In the case of Tea Board, India v ITC Limited, 2011 which has been referred to as the first case of infringement was filed in the Calcutta High Court. Darjeeling tea was granted geographical indication protection in 2004-2005 by its original owners, The Tea Board. Since then, the GI has been involved in a number of legal battles. The plaintiffs, the Tea Board, were harmed by ITC Limited’s activities because ITC Limited established a top executive lounge called “Darjeeling Lounge.” The plaintiffs argued that the hotel’s use of the word “Darjeeling” had infringed on their registered GI, as well as being an act of unfair competition that, if employed, would lead to public deception and confusion, presuming that there was some sort of link between the two. They also filed a motion for relief, requesting an interim injunction. The defendants, on the other hand, argued that because Darjeeling is largely a place name and tea is not the single most significant component of Darjeeling, Darjeeling is not entitled to claim singularity over the term ‘Darjeeling,’ and that its monopoly has been limited to ‘tea.’ The Calcutta High Court ruled in favor of the defendants, stating that the plaintiffs’ registered GI was solely limited to tea and that the legal protection could not be extended to lounge services for the same.
The designer Ritu Beri was then involved in a dispute over the infringement of geographical indications in 2020. In Haryana, the designer Ritu Beri put on a fashion exhibition in collaboration with Tribes India and the Suraj Kund authorities, which included Chakhesang shawls. The plaintiffs, Chakhesang Women Welfare Society, were harmed by the defendants’ actions and filed a civil suit against the designer, alleging that they had allegedly misrepresented the shawls and that the show had caused “irreparable damage/distorted the identity of the traditional shawls, which are GI registered, wherein the shawls were woven and designed with deep-rooted meanings since time immemorial,” and that the show had caused infringement of their registered geographical indications. The court has still not pronounced its final verdict and has asked the defendants for the filing of written statements.