Thursday, May 29, 2008

Will 'Peter the Scot' harm Indian Geographical Indications? [India]

India can have its whisky, and drink it too, but it risks losing out in the global rice and tea market.
A ruling by the Supreme Court on Tuesday ended the almost two-decades-long challenge by an association of Scotch whisky makers to Khoday India Ltd’s right to have a non-Scotch whisky brand called Peter Scot because of the similarity between the words “Scot” and “Scotch”.
But the ruling could result in global retaliation and affect Indian products such as basmati rice and Assam tea, say analysts. That’s because the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Khoday despite the geographical indication (GI) status enjoyed by Scotch. Unlike a trademark—a unique and distinctive sign to identify a product or service—a GI is a sign used on goods that have a specific place of origin and possess qualities or reputation that are due to that origin.
In many cases, a GI is merely the name of the place where the goods originate. “Champagne” and “Tuscany” are some examples of GIs. Indian examples include “Assam tea”, “Darjeeling tea” and “Kanchipuram silk saree”. Basmati rice is also a GI.

In this case, Khoday, which began producing Peter Scot 40 years ago, registered the trademark in 1974. Twelve years later, the Scotch Whisky Association or SWA, a group of manufacturers and exporters of Scotch whisky, raised an objection before the registrar of trademarks, arguing that the word “Scot” was deceptively similar to “Scotch” and would mislead the consumers into believing that the product was of Scottish origin. The registrar ruled in SWA’s favour.
Khoday appealed to the Madras high court which too ruled against it. The high court order delivered in October was challenged by Khoday in the Supreme Court.
A two-judge bench on Tuesday allowed the appeal and validated the use of the trademark “Peter Scot”.
The judgement swung in favour of Khoday on two points. The first was the delay of 12 years on part of SWA in filing an objection.
The second was that consumers of Scotch whisky in India are discerning enough to distinguish between Scotch whisky and whisky made in India.
Referring to precedents from countries such as Australia and the US, the judges said the legal test applied to check deception of consumers by the high court were incorrect.
The judgement states: “However, tests laid down in Australia and United States in respect of self-same goods are noticed herein before are somewhat different. But then we are concerned with the class of buyer who is supposed to know the value of money, the quality and content of scotch whisky. They are supposed to be aware of the difference of the process of manufacture, the place of manufacture and their origin.”
The apex court’s judgement, interestingly, overturns numerous verdicts of high courts in the country that granted SWA relief by passing restraining orders against liquor manufacturers in India for using words such as “Scot”, “Highland” and “Chief”, words that SWA contended were associated with Scotch whisky brewed in Scotland.

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