The term 'geographical indication' refers to a word or phrase that identifies a product as originating from a particular place, where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is attributable to its geographical origin. Geographical indications need not always be geographical names (eg, the name of a town, region or country), but may also consist of symbols.
In its efforts to protect the name 'Kashmir pashmina', the craft development commissioner for handicraft, the Ministry of Textiles, the government of India and the Directorate of Handicraft under the government of Jammu and Kashmir filed an application for 'Kashmir pashmina' to be registered under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act 1999 (for further details please see "Registration of Geographical Indications"). The controller general of patents, designs and trademarks has now awarded the product protection under the act.
Kashmir goats, or Himalayan mountain goats, are a breed of domestic goat. Pashm is the Persian word for wool, and a pashmina is pashm in its woven form - the highest quality of cashmere. In Kashmir, kashmir goats are often referred to as the pashmina goat. Pashm has special characteristics due to its long, fine fibres, which can be as thin as 12 microns. Thinness is a unique and distinguishing feature of the Kashmir pashmina. A pashmina is light, soft and warm and feels luxurious. Natural colours of the pashmina include white, grey, red, brown and black.
The fabric has a historic bond with the region and its culture and traditions. The weave of the fabric is so individual that the pattern instructions are in the form of a poem recited by the head of the family; the weavers follow the instructions and the pattern is unknown to them until it is finished.
The registration of Kashmir pashmina as a geographical indication is increasingly important in the current IP climate as India is arguing, along with other developing countries, for the expansion of Article 23 of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). Under the TRIPs Agreement, 'geographical indications' are defined as "place names used to identify the origin and quality, reputation or other characteristics of products". Article 22 provides standard protection to the majority of geographical indications, whereas Article 23 awards a higher level of protection to wines and spirits.
The registration of Kashmir pashmina as a geographical indication is a welcome gesture as national protection is an essential criterion for the award of global protection. The Indian government has become more cautious in protecting geographical indications in the light of a recent decision of the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which upheld the Tea Board of India's claim for the indication, mark and logo for Darjeeling tea. It is the government's duty to take positive steps to protect geographical indications, as the interests of communities, rather than just individuals, are at stake.