Ritvik M. Kulkarni, III BSL LLB, ILS Law College, Pune
The Chennai bench of the IPAB is set to hear claims on a priority basis for securing GI protection for Basmati rice from 8th July to 10th July 2015. After growing support from basmati rice exporters, the urge for GI protection has grown stronger in the Indian community and the Indian government.
As many of our readers may be aware, Indian grown and cultivated basmati rice has been embroiled in an IP controversy for nearly two decades. It all began after a Texas based company named RiceTec shamelessly secured a patent for basmati rice from the USPTO in 1997. After the Indian government made a huge hue and cry about this before international forums, the American company either lost or withdrew most of its claims before the USPTO; most importantly, RiceTec lost the right to call their rice lines “basmati“. However, even today Ricetec markets its basmati products as Texmati and Kasmati.
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The IPAB is mainly going to take into consideration arguments made by stakeholders on whether or not to include Madhya Pradesh into areas which have traditionally grown Basmati rice in India. However, various experts and other stakeholders have raised a strong voice against such inclusion as it may affect the rights of farmers and also the quality of Basmati rice which is exported.
KV Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), and a well-known rice breeder, had recently said to the Financial Express, “Claiming rice grown in Madhya Pradesh as basmati is not correct as we have developed seed varieties keeping in mind agro-climatic zones of the Indo-Gangetic plain,”
Claims for inclusion aside, it is most pertinent that the IPAB grants GI protection to Basmati rice as this would greatly strengthen the rights of Indian farmers by ensuring them fair competition, quality products and reputation in the international commodities market. It will also give them (and authorised traders) a strong basis to enforce their exclusive right before national Courts and trade forums.
In terms of the importance of securing GI protection, various national associations such as the Scotch Whisky Association, have vigorously protected its exclusivity across the world.