India, Stories, World

Explainer: What is Geographical Indication (GI)? Why is it important?


The ‘Odisha Rasagola’ recently received the GI tag. But what is the GI tag? Why is it important? Here is an explainer.


Be it sipping a cup of delicate Darjeeling tea or adding some extra Swiss Gruyere cheese to the lasagne, many products we come across in our daily lives can be linked to some geographical location which proudly holds the patronage and authority to secure recognition and protection of their product in the market. The product can be a food, handicraft or agricultural product that is unique to the place and is popular across other parts. This story explains in detail what Geographical Indications are and why are they important.

What is a Geographical Indication (GI)?

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a Geographical Indication (abbreviated as GI) is a distinctive sign associated with products which have a specific origin and which determines the qualities possessed by the product. For instance, tea is produced in different parts of the world. But what sets apart Darjeeling tea from the rest of the tea producers is its flavour, quality and the area where it is grown which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Since GIs are an intangible asset born out of the creativity of human mind and are used in commerce, they have always been considered intellectual properties. Usually, the names of GIs will also have the place of origin (is evident from the name, Darjeeling tea). GIs are different from ‘Appellations of Origin and Trademarks’. Apart from agricultural products and food items, human skills such as art and craft which are unique to a particular area, made out of locally available natural resources and even industrial products can also qualify as a GI. A few famous examples of GIs are Swiss Watches, Beaujolais (red wine produced in Eastern France), Pinggu Peaches of China, Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka and Idaho – potatoes produced in Idaho State of the US.

TRIPs agreement among the member states of WTO first described GI

The term ‘Geographical Indication’ was initially defined in section 3 of ‘Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights’, also known as the TRIPS agreement. The agreement, adopted in 1994, is an international legal agreement between all the countries which are members of the World Trade Organisation. Prior to this, in the Paris Convention of 1883, appellation of origins and indications of source were referred to with respect to Intellectual Property. The TRIPS agreement has bestowed the member states with the obligation to provide legal means to ensure that duplication of the good does not take place and to prevent unfair competition. The members of WTO must provide protection for their product.

Germany had the largest number of GIs registered as of 2017

According to WIPO, as of 2017, Germany had the largest number of registered GIs- about 14,073 followed by Austria with 8749. China was next in line with 8507 GIs. Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia & Herzegovina had more than 3000. India had 305 GIs as of 2017. Countries like Singapore, Uzbekistan and Philippines did not have any.

GI Act was passed in 1999 in India

GI rights are territorial. There is not any international right for GIs. GI rights vary from country to country. In India, The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act was passed in December 1999 and came into effect in 2003. It comes under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Under this Act, the Geographical Indications Registry was introduced, in which a register on GIs has to be maintained which contains the details of the GI along with the basic details of the proprietors and authorised users. The classification of goods is done in accordance with the International classification of goods for registering GIs.

Goods which contradict any of the existing laws or hurt the sentiments of people or even hold generic names are not entitled to GI status in India. Generic GIs are that whose name not only represents the origin but also has become a customary term for the product. Homonymous GIs are those whose name sound alike or are spelt alike but the origin of the products are different. Appropriate steps to differentiate between homonymous GIs need to be taken in order to avoid misleading consumers. 

GI Protection lasts for duration of ten years after which it must be renewed

In order to apply for the status, an association of producers or an organisation registered under law representing the people who want to get the GI registration for a product, should apply mentioning the quality, features and reputation which enable the qualification of the product under the category. The application must be filed along with the requisite particulars at the office of the Geographical Indications Registry and should be accompanied by a fee of Rs. 5000. The acceptance or denial of the application lies in the hands of the Registrar. Upon approval and registration of the product, a certificate will be issued to the applicant as well as the authorised users. The time period for which a product will be registered is 10 years. It may be renewed once the period is over based on the provisions of the act.

The registered proprietor has the right to obtain relief in case someone infringes on the GI as per the act. This can be a case in which another product from a different origin carries a similar name which deceives/misleads people. The case can also be one which involves the use of GI in dishonest industrial matters.

Falsifying GI or misuse of GI is liable to imprisonment and penalty

Anyone who uses the GI without the consent of the authorised user or makes a similar one which deceives people or someone comes up with a deceiving GI resembling the original on packages, he/she is liable to be imprisoned for a period between 6 months and up to three years in addition to a penalty between Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 2 lakhs. Similar punishment is also applicable for those who sell products which carry false GI unless proven innocent. Any such repeat offences will carry a minimum penalty of Rs. One lakh (which may extend up to Rs. Two lakhs) and an imprisonment between 1 to 3 years. If anyone is accused of using GI for a product which has not been registered, he/she is liable to face three years imprisonment and penalty as well.  

Around the globe, GIs have played a crucial role in trade and economy. Not only does it help in branding of goods and marketing strategies, it also has helped in preservation of traditional knowledge and cultural practices. GIs have also contributed to rural development by aiding the regional producers.  The list of registered GIs in India can be accessed from the GI registry website. In the next story, we look at the GIs registered in India and their regional spread.

Featured Image: Geographical Indication Introduction


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.