Basmati Case Highlights Geographical Aspects of TRIPS

2 March 1998

India continues to mull over how it will protest the U.S. decision to grant a patent on basmati rice to the U.S. company RiceTec which allows the company to market its long-grain American rice variety as "basmati" on domestic product and product for export. This poses a serious threat to the 480,000 tons of Indian basmati exported every year as it could lose market share in the premium rice category in the U.S. and EU to the RiceTec product.

Indian officials must decide if they should bring the case to the U.S. patent office for review, or complain to the WTO on the premise that the RiceTec patent is a prima facie violation of Article 22 of the international agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). Article 22 covers the protection of geographical indicators used in product names-- champagne or Roquefort cheese for example.

In a parallel story the WTO accepted an U.S. proposal last week requiring members to answer questions about their national rules regarding geographic indicators. The WTO Council on TRIPs would use the questionnaire or "checklist" as an information-gathering tool, to be used in deciding whether or not to create rules on the registration of geographical indications. The Council is to meet May 13 to decide on what questions to include. The U.S. has already submitted a list of questions, asking among other things whether rules on the protection of geographic indications exist within a countries' legislation, who can apply and use them, and how are rights enforced. As an aside, India has no legislation in place protecting geographical indications.

"India to fight US move on basmati rice," FINANCIAL TIMES, February 25, 1998; "WTO may send checklist to members on registration of geographical indications," February 25, 1998.

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