Protection of “BASMATI” in Kenya as Trade mark or Geographical Indication?

rice pikachakuladotcom

In a recent ruling by the Registrar of Trademarks, it was found that the word BASMATI does not enjoy prima facie recognition as a geographical indication (GI) in Kenya therefore its registration is permissible as a trade mark. A full copy of this ruling available here.

In this matter, Krish Commodities Limited (the applicant) had applied to KIPI for registration of six marks all bearing the word BASMATI. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), a statutory body under the Indian Ministry of Commerce which is primarily in charge of export and development of agricultural and processed food products, including BASMATI rice filed a notice of opposition. APEDA argued that BASMATI was a GI that specifically denoted “a special and unique aromatic long grain rice grown and produced in a specific region of the Indian sub-continent, at the foothills of the Himalayas and falling in India and Pakistan.”

Through its local counsel, APEDA argued that the applicant sought to benefit from the substantial reputation and goodwill built up in connection with the name BASMATI. In this connection, it was alleged that the proposed registration was meant to deceive the public into believing that the applicant had proprietary rights over the word and name BASMATI or to cause confusion in the minds of the public as to the origin of the goods, and that the application was likely to impair, interfere with or take unfair advantage of the distinctive nature of the GI BASMATI.

In response, the applicant claimed that APEDA lacked locus standi to institute opposition proceedings as it was not the owner of the mark as desired to be registered. Furthermore, the applicant contended that it was not claiming any exclusivity to the word BASMATI and had agreed to disclaim the use of the word BASMATI. In this connection, the applicant contended that the application was not to register the mark BASMATI on its own but for the registration of different marks consisting of a combination of words. It was further claimed by the applicant that the word BASMATI was a common everyday word in the food and rice trade.

In making his ruling, the Registrar identified several key issues for determination including: the locus standi of the opponent; the legal position regarding ownership of the mark BASMATI in Kenya and the status of the word BASMATI under Kenyan law. In the first instance, the Registrar found that APEDA as the opponent had the locus standi to bring the oppositions. However the Registrar found that APEDA had failed to establish any proprietary rights to the word BASMATI such as would enable it to prevent its registration as a mark by any other party. The Registrar also found that APEDA had not established that under Kenyan law the word BASMATI is a mark whose registration is prohibited by reason of its being a geographical indication.

Comments:

This blogger was particularly delighted by the Registrar’s fancy footwork in steering clear of the rice wars between India and Pakistan over the registration of BASMATI as a Trade mark or a Geographical Indication.

At the international level, it has been argued that not much has changed since the TRIPS Agreement and therefore GI owners like APEDA continue to struggle to protect names like BASMATI in a world with no uniform mechanism for protection of GIs.

At the national level, it clear that there has been increased awareness and protection of GIs, In the present case, the Registrar is fully cognisant of the government’s obligations under TRIPS but finds that APEDA failed to take necessary steps to secure its IP rights in the word BASMATI within Kenya. In particular, it is important to note the enactment of section 40A of the Kenya Trademarks Act which was made in conformity with TRIPS, specifically to cater for GIs. This provision provides that geographical names or other indications of geographical origin may be registered as collective trade marks or service marks.

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