West Bengal trademark battle over biriyani leaves ‘Malabar’ amused

There can be no right to the exclusive commercial use of the word ‘Malabar’, said the SC in a trademark battle between two companies to use the particular nomenclature for the sale of Biriyani rice.

Published: 14th July 2018 04:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th July 2018 11:22 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There can be no right to the exclusive commercial use of the word ‘Malabar’, ruled the Supreme Court in a trademark battle between two companies to use the particular nomenclature for the sale of Biriyani rice.

That the entities involved in the legal tussle are from West Bengal has literally taken Kerala, especially the Malabar region, by surprise.

For the original Malabar has not been producing Biriyani rice commercially, despite there being a huge demand for its scented rice varieties.

Experts also cast doubt over the Apex Court judgment as the Geographical Indication Act clarifies that if a particular product is registered with the GI registry in connection with the indication of a region, the name of the region cannot be used for trademark purposes.

For good measure, Malabar already has ‘Malabar Pepper’ to its credit. Kerala had recently foiled such an attempt by a trader from Ernakulam to use Marayur as a trademark to sell various products, including jaggery, as Marayur jaggery - named after the hilly region in Idukki district - is already registered with the GI registry.  

C R Elsy, head of the IPR Cell of Kerala Agriculture University, told Express that Kerala has not been producing Biriyani rice commercially, even though the traditional aromatic rice varieties like ‘Jeerakasala’ and ‘Gandakasala’ are being used for making Biriyani of late.

Over the decades, Basmati rice has been used for Biriyani-making as ‘long rice’ is more suitable for preparing steaming Biriyani, though ‘Thalassery Biriyani’ and ‘Malabar Biriyani’ is known to gladden food buffs.

However, the short, scented rice varieties ‘Jeerakasala’ and ‘Gandakasala’ - included in the Geographical Indications (GI) Registry of India and grown by farmers and tribal communities in Panamaram, Sultan Bathery and Mananthavady in Wayanad district - have won the hearts of Biriyani buffs recently. But their production is very low and its sale is limited to domestic markets in the Malabar region.

""’Jeerakasala’ is being cultivated only in 22 hectares while ‘Gandakasala’ is grown in around 327 hectares, cultivated chiefly by Wayanad Chetti, Kuruma and Kurichya communities,” Elsy said.

“The rice varieties yielding around 2.3 tonnes per hectare also require special milling facilities for large-scale production and marketing, affecting the prospects of traditional rice varieties despite huge demand for them overseas.” Apart from the two scented varieties, traditional rice variety Kayama is also being used for making Biriyani. But its production is very low, compared to other scented varieties. Agriculture Minister V S Sunilkumar said he will look into the matter.

Trademark matters

A senior officer with the Agriculture Department said the name of a particular region or place used as a geographical indication in connection with the registration of a product with the GI Registry cannot be given to any particular company or individual as a trademark as it will affect the market of the GI-registered product.

“However, the trademark can be used if the name was registered before the enactment of the GI Act or the registration of the said GI product,” he said.

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