SpicyIP ran a guest post recently on a post-grant analysis of the Tirupati Laddu geographical indication (GI). The post itself received an overwhelming response from readers, most of whom were in agreement with the author's views that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), being the sole producer and sole beneficiary of the sale of the product, could not qualify as a legitimate "association", as required under the GI Act.
A Bittersweet Tale
Apologies to those who feel the story's been done to death, but I can't help but draw your attention to an excellent analysis by V Venkatesan , entitled "Bittersweet Status" in the latest issue of Frontline who similarly argues that the TTD may not have met the requirements of establishing that it was an association of producers. I quote some key paragraphs below:
"According to experts, the dual objectives of the registration and protection of G.Is. are to protect the community rights of stakeholders and to prevent the consumer from getting deceived or confused by fakes or substandard products. The TTD’s application satisfies the second objective but not the first. In the prescribed application, the TTD has mentioned only TTD against the column on the list of association of persons/producers/organisation/authority.In defence of the Laddu
...It is tempting to term G.I. as the poor man’s I.P. (intellectual property) in India because most of the stakeholders of G.Is are farmers, artisans and craftsmen belonging to the lower economic strata and, ideally, the benefits of G.I. registrations must trickle down to them. If instead of the TTD a community of skilled cooks in and around Tirupati makes these laddus, and supplies them, after due quality checks, for distribution to pilgrims visiting Tirupati, then the registration as G.I. may be warranted.
Experts in I.P. are, therefore, worried that the granting of G.I. status to Tirupati laddus militates against the very spirit of G.I. protection, which is aimed at protecting, preserving and promoting collective community rights as opposed to private monopoly rights. They point out that permitting such registrations can lead to a situation where a community or private enterprise carrying on a monopolistic business can get a G.I. for its product if it can demonstrate that it is the only one manufacturing or producing the product and that this product has unique features..."
The same article, however, does contain a defence against these allegations:
"Subodh Kumar of the Andhra Pradesh Technology Development and Promotion Centre, who had a major role in drafting the TTD’s application and statement of case before the G.I. Registry, said that Section 2 (k) (iii) of the GIGA defines producer as any person who makes or manufactures the goods, and that under Section 2(n) of the GIGA, any organisation could be the proprietor of the G.I. In other words, according to him, the GIGA protects the G.I. of a single producer, such as the TTD, as well as a community of producers, if there is any."
Meanwhile, TTD itself appears to have been mysteriously silent on this whole issue. I have to admit I am yet to come across a formal statement from the Devasthanam about its registration or a response to the clamour surrounding it. If any readers have a clue, do post a note in the comments section.
The Trendy Laddu?
On a related front, and as though the Frontline article had portended it, regular reader and commentator RS Praveen Raj points us to a news report in the Economic Times that the Pazhani (or Palani) Murugan temple in Tamil Nadu may be contemplating a GI application on similar lines, for its 'Panchamritam' prasadam made from local ingredients (Image from Wikipedia):
The Chairman of the Temple Trust, S Balasubramaniam, is reported to have told ET the following:
"[T]he trust will also consider applying to the Patent office for geographical indication (GI) for panchamirtham, since the final product is a generic one with a unique mixture of Viruppachchi plantains, kandasari sugar from Kangeyam area, dates, honey, sugar candy, cardamom and ghee in proper proportions.
The Viruppachchi plantains grown exclusively in the Palani Hills already has a GI status and Palani temple has a tie-up with the farmers for this important raw material. "The small-sized virupachchi plantain has very little water content and therefore it is highly suitable for preparation of panchamirtham," said Mr Balasubramaniam."
Ah, it's that religion and IP affair again, you say: what a devil of a combination.