India: updates on basmati patent

by GRAIN | 11 Oct 1998
TITLE: India not to hurry with appeal on basmati patenting AUTHOR: T S Vishwanath DATE: 11 September 1998 --- TITLE: One-upmanship over basmati AUTHOR: Nidhi Nath Srinivas DATE: 19 September 1998

PUBLICATION: The Economic Times (The Times of India) URL:

The Economic Times 11 September 1998


by T S Vishwanath

INDIA is in no hurry to appeal against the Ricetec patent for basmati at the US patent office despite Pakistan's decision to go ahead with its appeal soon.

Pakistan has decided to independently file an appeal against the Ricetec patent at the US Patent office in the next couple of days.

"We will, however, do our research completely before appealing against the Ricetec Patent. The appeal will be filed soon and the Pakistan move to hurry with its appeal does not hamper our position," said an official in New Delhi.

"The idea is to prove that basmati is grown in this region and Ricetec cannot be given a patent for basmati," he said, adding, ``While it would have been better for the two countries to file the appeal together, the Pakistani move does not hurt India's position in any way."

The BJP-led government has set up an inter-ministerial committee to decide on the strategy for countering the threat to basmati. At the same time, scientific evidence is being collected by several institutions simultaneously to prove that basmati is a generic Indian produce.

India has been, for the last few months, compiling evidence to prove that the long-grain rice developed by RiceTec does not have the characteristics of traditional basmati.

Also, the country has been collecting evidence to prove that only long grain aromatic rice grown in the foothills of the Himalayas can be called the real basmati. Pakistan, however, believes that authentic basmati is grown in Punjab.

Earlier, India had protested against the French authorities' decision to allow a French company use the term 'basmati' in its trade mark.

The Indian government filed a protest with the French trademarks office against granting the French foods company, Establissements Haudecoeur La Courneuve, the permission to use two new trade marks , 'Riz Long Basmati' and 'Riz Long Basmati Riz Du Monde' to sell long-grain aromatic rice in the continent.

India's contention has been that even though these foreign companies can sell rice virtually identical in aroma and taste, it cannot use the traditional Indian name 'basmati' because it is used for the rice grown in a specific geographic area.

The Times of India © Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 1997.


The Economic Times 19 September 1998


by Nidhi Nath Srinivas

Pakistan's decision to fight RiceTec's patent independently in the United States is yet another move in the endless and futile game of one-upmanship between the two countries, where short-term political gains are being sought at the expense of long-term business advantage.

Pakistan believes that becoming the first to challenge the patent would give it unprecedented leverage in this landmark case on protecting geographic appellations in south Asia, where hitherto it had been relegated to a secondary role. But this decision to distance itself from India can be only superficially to its advantage because the basmati trade of both countries is complementary and any threat to one necessarily spills over to the other.

In fact, till May 5 this year, Pakistani rice traders were perfectly willing to cooperate fully with the Indian trade in collecting evidence to prove that basmati rice is peculiar to the Indian sub-continent and that the new grain developed by RiceTec is similar to other long grain aromatic rice grown in the sub-continent.

Pakistani traders visited Delhi and even promised to give India a legal affidavit stating that it fully agrees with India's position that historically basmati belongs to the sub-continent and that it supports the scientific evidence collected by India to dispute the novelty of RiceTec's patent.

Then the bomb exploded and diplomatic relations hit an unprecedented trough. All subsequent attempts by India to get the affidavit quickly from Pakistan met with complete silence, even as frenzied attempts were being made to beat India in the race to the US patents office.

Of course, since both the Indian and Pakistani rice trades stand to gain equally, it is immaterial who files the petition as long as the case is won and the patent is revoked.

But political expediency is now compelling the two countries to file two different sets of evidence where there need only have been one. The avoidable confusion that this may create could well cost both nations the case and a huge loss in trade terms. Any discrepancy between the evidence filed by India and Pakistan can only work in RiceTec's favour.

India will now have to necessarily take into account the legal strategy, the quality of scientific evidence, and the geographic appellation Pakistan may have used to define basmati, before it can put forward its own petition.

For instance, Pakistan has compared the RiceTec grain with its own basmati hybrid - Pak 385, and come to the conclusion that it does not have the characteristics of real basmati. India, on the other hand, has adopted the position that no such comparison is necessary because the product attributes of a grain developed by another country can never be the eligibility criteria for the rice to be called basmati as it is unique to our country.

Further, Pakistan has stated that the real basmati grows only in Punjab, and holds no brief for the other states in India that also grow basmati. In fact, the term it is taking pride in now using is `Pakistan basmati'. India, on the other hand, has always maintained that apart from Punjab, basmati is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, western Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. It has also been scrupulously careful in referring to it as `basmati from India and Pakistan'. By limiting the traditional area under basmati to only Punjab, Pakistan is, thus, seriously jeopardising Indian interests.

With these glaringly differences in points of view, perhaps it is in India's best interests not fall into the trap of one-upmanship and continue with its original stance that basmati belongs to the entire sub-continent and that no foreign company can grow a long grain aromatic variety in any other part of the world and call it basmati.

This holistic approach may well limit any damage inflicted by Pakistan's insistence on a Pakistani basmati.

It may also work to India's advantage if it is able to witness the fate of Pakistan's evidence in the US patents office before filing its own challenge. Fortunately, it still remains a win-win situation for the rice trade in both countries, no matter who manages to fend off RiceTec. But the next time round, in another case, in another sector, business may not get so lucky. That's the scary bit.

The Times of India © Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 1997.

Author: GRAIN
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