SpicyIP has breaking news that the Madras High Court today dismissed a Public Interest Litigation challenging the registration of Tirupati Laddu as a geographical indication. The Court dismissed the petition observing that alternate remedy of rectification had not been exhausted, that being the most appropriate route in this case.
(Image of boondi laddu from here)
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), represented by Anand and Anand, and the GI Registry had argued that the petition could not be maintained since the alternate efficacious remedy available under the Statute had not been exhausted. The Geographical Indications Act provides for rectification of a registered GI by way of a petition to be preferred before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board or the Registrar of Geographical Indications.
Readers will recall our extensive coverage of the issue, including most notably here and here, where news of the PIL was highlighted in the comments section.
In October 2009, Mr. J. Mohanraj, General Secretary of Jebamani Janata Party, had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Madras High Court challenging two registrations which had been granted to the respective temple trusts:
1. the trademark registration granted by the Trademark Office to the image of Kannagi Amman deity of Attukkal, to the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple Trust.
2. the registration granted for “Tirupati Laddu” as a Geographical Indication (GI) in favour of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam.
During the course of the matter, the Madras HC limited itself to hearing the matter on the Tirupati Laddu GI, since it came to light that there was an identical PIL filed before the Kerala High Court challenging the Attukal trademark registration (we have written about some of the concerns about the Attukal TM here).
The main grounds of challenge in the petition were that religious symbols could not be monopolized by private entities, and that religious offerings could not be commercial goods. The petitioner also argued that such grants violated Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution.
I haven't seen a copy of the order, but I was part of a brief email discussion earlier today on how, if at all, the order attempted to discuss the issue of the locus standi of the person entitled to file a rectification for a GI registration. I understand that the order does not discuss this matter, but there is room for comment on this. (a similar discussion has recently ensued in a post by Sai re Indian patent provisions).
The question here, however, is that the court appears to recognise that an alternate remedy lies in the form of a rectification. The GI Act, in section 27, entertains an application for rectification made only by a "person aggrieved". The court order appears to ratify the possibility of filing a rectification by a member of the public. Is this order, then, an invitation to include a larger body of persons in the definition of "person aggrieved"?
Readers familiar with trademark practice in India will know that there has been similar contention over who "person aggrieved" includes in rectification matters, and in some cases, the courts have interpreted the term fairly widely, introducing the issue of "public interest" (that familiar phrase again!) where need be.
It would be great to hear your opinions on this. We shall keep track and see if we can obtain a copy of the order for your benefit. We would also like to thank a southern friend of the blog who wishes to remain anonymous, for drawing our attention to this news.