Article 22.1 of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) defines Geographical Indications as indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member (of the World Trade Organisation), or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. In other non-technical words, Geographical Indication is a design or sign which is being used on any product to indicate that the product has a specific geographical origin and that it possesses some distinctive qualities or reputation which is due to its origin.
The simple answer to whether jute or jute made products can get GI registration is yes, they can. Bengal has been famous for its “Golden Fiber” from time immemorial. Ain-i-Akbari, the famous book from 16th century (1590) mentions different kinds of jute products that originated from Bengal. According to Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) produced 80% of the entire world production of jute from 1940 to 1950. The first National Jute Day was observed on March 8, 2018.
Bangladesh had developed a sui generis system to protect GI products by enacting the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 2013. According to section 2(8) of the Act goods include agricultural or natural goods or goods of handicraft and industry food stuff. Therefore both raw jute and jute made products can be treated as GI products. Section 9 provides that producers of the goods or any association, institution, government body or authority of any group which represents the interest of persons producing geographical indication of goods can apply for registration.
Therefore, BJMC, Bangladesh Jute Research Institute, relevant ministries of the Government, relevant associations can apply for the registration to the Department of Patents, Designs and Trademark. The person or organisation who is going to apply for registration have to submit a detailed research report about the etymology, history, procedure of cultivation, involvement of traditional knowledge (if any), details of the processing, involvement of human skills which makes the product different from other products of the market and must establish the connection between the reputation of the product and its place of origin. The officials of DPDT will then go through the report and conduct necessary inspections before declaring the product as a GI product. Section 16(2) says that the registration is valid for five years and the person or organisation who applied for registration will be treated as authorised users. Therefore anybody claiming his product as a GI product (when his product is not one) can be sued by the authorised user where the unauthorised user will get imprisonment and punitive punishment.
According to BJMC, livelihood of about 25 million people is dependent on jute -related activities in agriculture, domestic marketing, manufacturing and trade. Jute and jute made product with a GI tag will surely increase price of the goods and if profit is shared properly then the quality of life of jute farmers and their community is going to be improved as well. Moreover GI protected jute products can open an avenue for a widened commercial use thereof.
Brand recognition is an essential aspect of marketing. There are many producers of jute in global market. The reputation of Bengal jute and jute made products is unprotected in international arena. Many of such products with its reputation is being snatched from Bangladesh by global contenders. An alarming report is that two Institutions namely Nisha Craft Samiti, Ghazipur and Human Welfare Association, Varanasi on 25th September of 2016 had applied for GI registration of 'Ghazipur Jute Wall-hanging Craft' in India. Consumers from all over the world may make mistakes while distinguishing between Bangladeshi jute with jute from other countries. In these cases Bangladesh will not only lose money but also its reputation. To stop this kind of free riding, we need to protect jute and jute made products with the help of GI mechanism provided by the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 2013.
The writer is a lecturer of law, Daffodil International University.