In an order dated November 14, 2012, the IPAB set aside the order dated July 14, 2009 by which a GI was granted on Payyanur Pavithram ring to Payyanur Pavithra Ring Artisans and Development Society (PPRADS).
On a cursory reading of the order, it appears that the grant of the GI was set aside on grounds that the application for GI filed by PPRADS was short on crucial particulars which established the right of the society to file the application on behalf of artisans manufacturing the ring.
Critically, it appears that the right of the Society to file the application was seriously circumspect with there being grave doubts if the artisans in the trade were even aware of the application for GI filed by the society. Following are the relevant observations of the IPAB:
“28. We could have allowed the appeal on the sole ground that the application has not been properly filed. But we thought that we should take a lenient view since this is one of the early GI’s. There are many shortcomings in the proceedings. It is clear that the applicant/respondent has failed to furnish the crucial particulars. The applicant ought to have shown that “the producers”” of the rings as defined in the Act had a desire to form the association. There should be evidence to show that the association represents the interest of the producers. A mere claim that the society is called Payyannur Pavithra Ring Artisans and Development Society will not suffice. There should be evidence to show that the producers are desirous of coming together to protect the Geographical Indication, that is clearly absent. Above all on their own admission, it is the Choovatta Valappil family which was entrusted with the technique of making the ring, but even the members of that Tharawad had no notice of the application. Such an application will defeat the purpose of the Act.
29. The lawmakers may consider introducing a provision which requires each applicant to effect a publication akin to the Section 4 Notice in the Land Acquisition Act. The fact of the filing of the application must be published in a newspaper having good circulation in the locality and in the language of the territory, region or locality which is the geographical origin of the goods in question. We are deliberately not using the word “vernacular” since that has such a patronizing colonial flavour, whichever language it may be it is an Indian language. There must also be affixture of public notice in prominent places in the territory, region or locality as the case may be. Only then, the artisans will know that a Geographical Indication has been applied for in respect of the goods that they are creating. We are aware that “a producer” includes the person who deals in this goods or selling those goods. However the main object of the Act is to protect those persons who are directly engaged in exploiting, creating or making or manufacturing the goods. They have the hands-on experience of the G.I. products. When these creators or makers complain that the application has been made behind their back we cannot allow the registration to remain. The artisans like weavers, goldsmiths and other craftsmen may not be affluent or literate in English language, so the publication must be in the local language. The advertisement in S.13 is in the Trade Journal is of no use and will not serve the same purpose as a public notice akin to the S.4 Land Acquisition Act notice. The appellant has also complained that the Consultative Group has not visited the place and the Quorum was not formed.”
The following observation in Para 32 is even more noteworthy:
“The averments in the appeal and opposition show how the craftsmanship of the ring has been handed down from generation to generation. In Intellectual Property Right related matters be it G.I., Patents or Trademarks the dispute is really not inter-partes alone, there is always the issue of public interest. The Geographical Indication Registrar and this Board must protect this public interest. The history of the Payyannur Pavithra Ring, as seen from the statements of all the parties before us shows that though there may be other Rings in the market called Pavithra Ring, this particular design and the manner in which the Ring is made is special to this area. But the application has not been properly filed and there are other shortcomings in the proceedings as well. Hence while removing the name of the respondent from the register, we send it back to the Geographical Indication Registrar.”
Accordingly, the matter has been remanded to the GI registrar for reconsideration of the application and disposal within 6 months.
This is one of the first clear pronouncements on the GI Act, with the observations in the verdict having important ramifications for pending GI applications and oppositions before the GI Registry. The most important take-away, in my opinion, is the abundantly clear recognition of the public interest angle of GI rights, and the need to ensure that stakeholders are made aware of the filing of GI applications so that they may object to or seek to be included as part of the application.