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Bid for patent for basmati rice hits a hurdle

P. Manoj

Application flawed in terms of representation of basmati growers/farmers


  • Geographical Indication is a collective community right
  • Applicant for GI should have growers as majority partners

    BANGALORE: India's bid to register basmati rice as a geographical indication (GI) under the Geographical Indications of Goods and Registration and Protection Act has hit a hurdle.

    The application, filed with the Geographical Indications Registry in August 2004 by the Heritage Foundation, based in Karnal, Haryana, is found to be flawed in terms of representation of basmati growers/farmers on the trust.

    Long-drawn process

    During an examination process spanning more than two years, it was found "the Heritage Foundation is represented mostly by mill owners and exporters. This goes against the rule that the entity applying for a GI should have growers/stakeholders as majority partners," an expert having knowledge of the development disclosed.

    The Expert Committee, headed by the Controller-General of Patents, Design and Trade Marks attached to the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, who also acts as the Registrar of GI, will meet in a few days to consider the application. If it is accepted, the application will be advertised in the GI journal for three months. If there are no objections during this period, it will be granted GI. The GI Registry has been set up under the Geographical Indications of Goods and Registration and Protection Act 1999 for facilitating registration and protection of GI-related agricultural and industrial products/goods in India.

    As per the law, producers/inventors can claim protection in other WTO-member countries only if they are first protected in the country of origin.

    A GI is defined as an indication which identifies a good as originating in the territory of a member-country of the WTO or a region or locality in that territory where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of the product are essentially attributable to the geographical origin.

    Only an association of producers or an authority established under law can apply for GI registration. It is a "collective community right" and not an "individual right."

    A GI certificate means that only the rice grown in India will qualify to be called `basmati,' thus conferring legal protection on the product and safeguarding against unauthorised use by other countries or producers, besides eliminating unfair competition for the benefit of genuine producers and consumers.

    The process of registering basmati as a GI has great significance for India, particularly after the U.S.-based RiceTec Inc. was granted a controversial patent in September 1997 on `Basmati Rice Grains and Lines.'

    Further, basmati is a major export earner for India. Exports touched 11,20,000 tonnes in 2005, registering a growth of about 45 per cent over the previous year. In value terms, exports rose to $596 million in 2005 from $432 million the previous year.

    Scope restricted

    Following India's challenge, RiceTec surrendered four claims and withdrew another 11 out of the total 20 claims.

    Subsequently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prohibited RiceTec from using the term `basmati' and restricted the scope of the patent to three specific rice strains developed by the U.S. company that are unrelated to the varieties grown in India.

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