Public Interest or Private Monopoly- The Case of Tirupathi Laddu

This post was first published on August 7th, 2012.
In a legal tangle that finally unknotted in late July, the Geographical Indication (GI) of ‘Tirupati Laddu’ has drawn a lot of attention, regards the religious sentiment attached to it. Unlike, Madhubani paintings, Darjeeling Tea or Goa Feni which enjoy the Geographical Indication tag, the roadmap for a GI status to the Prasadam(The ‘Tirupathi Laddu’), the temple being managed by Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam was not a sweet path to reckon with.
Be it the description of J Mohanraj, the then General Secretary of Jebamani Janata Party, who within weeks of granting the GI to ‘Tirupathi Laddu’ defined the act – ‘exemplary of commercialization of divine affairs’ and opposed it with a PIL in the Madras High Court or Mr Praveen Raj, a scientist with CSIR- NIIST and an IP enthusiast (who formerly worked as Examiner of Patents and Designs at the Chennai branch of the Patent Office), wrote a letter to the Supreme Court objecting to the same.
However, the petition was dismissed on the grounds of an existing alternative and efficacious forum, directing the petitioner to approach the latter. The GI Act provided two forums- GI Registry & IPAB, with the former being the authority which granted the GI Tag to the Laddu. Mr. Praveen Raj subsequently wrote a letter to IPAB, regards the suo- moto powers under section 27 of the Act, conferred on the IPAB to take up the matter. However, IPAB stated that it did not have suo-moto powers, consequent to which Mr. Praveen Raj, filed a petition before the IP Registry.
The Grounds of contention
TTD claimed that the Laddus (Prasadam), was unique in terms of quality, reputation, and sanctity. Its reputation is not just from its taste, but from its sanctity as well. As it appears, the move for a GI tag was a result of legally combating the activities of local vendors selling identically similar ‘Laddus’ by themselves. It is important to note that, on an annual count the revenue from the same is seemingly large, which is said to be an approximate Rs. 2 crores or so. However, Mr. Praveen Raj opposed in principal and noted as follows: “The GI Act is meant to benefit collective groups or societies. It isn’t meant to create a new monopoly”. He also noted that a dangerous trend shall see the reckoning if the GI status is allotted where Intellectual Property and Religion stands at a point of dispute. The fact that the Laddus was prepared by labourers who were hired, no way this community being benefited from the issue was held up as a major contention to the issue.
The rectification petition which was lying before the GI Registry over a year (drawing quite a bit of criticism for the delay), saw a conclusion, with the Registry deciding in favour of TTD. The rectification Petition filed by Mr. Praveen Raj stood dismissed and a cost of Rs. 10, 000 was imposed on Mr. Praveen Raj.
Mr. Praveen Raj, not being present at the time of decision had formerly communicated to the GI registry his inability to attend the session owing to technical difficulties of the current office he holds. However, on the judgement, it appears that the latter is unhappy and has squarely pointed to appropriate sections of GI Registration Act of 1999- which provides an imposing cost of Rs. 1,000/ day as against the Rs.10, 000 imposed by the Registry.
As the verdict stands today- The ‘Tirupathi’ Laddu enjoys the distinctive tag of a Geographical Indication as communicated by Chinnaraja G Naidu, Assistant Registrar of Trademarks & GI, Chennai.
Legal outlook
At this juncture, it would be noteworthy to take into account Rule 89 of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002.  As per Rule 89, the word applicant means “GI applicant” and opponent means the one who has filed “opposition”. It mentions the scenario when the applicant is not contesting the case filed by “opponent”. In such cases, the registrar shall consider whether the cost should be awarded to the “opponent”, after judging whether the proceedings might have been avoided if reasonable notice had been given by the “opponent” (who filed the opposition) to the applicant before notice of opposition was filed. This is for safeguarding the interest of the GI applicant.
It is quite distinguished that in the case of a rectification petition, the petitioner is not called an applicant. Instead, the petitioner has the status of “Opponent” as it is evident from Rule 65 and 66 read along with Rules 44 to 51. The word applicant always means “GI proprietor”. The petitioner in rectification plea gets the status of “opponent”. Taking into consideration, the above-mentioned rules, the scale of costs will be as per Rule 91 only and which cannot exceed a maximum of Rs. 1000. Having awarded a cost of Rs.10000, the GI registry has exceeded the powers conferred on it.
Contributed by: Shanel Punnoose and Aruna Mukundd.

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