Bangalore: The country’s biggest company by market value, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), has abandoned a four-year-old bid to get a geographical indication, or GI, status for gas pumped from its Krishna-Godavari (KG) fields and petroleum products made at its Jamnagar refinery.
According to one patent expert, RIL’s GI applications may not have been in compliance with the law, and the products from its Jamnagar refinery may not have qualified for the status.
A GI identifies agricultural, natural or manufactured goods, originating from a specific geographical area in a member country of the World Trade Organization representing quality, reputation and other characteristics, attributable to the place of its origin.
It acts as an indication of source and protects the intangible assets in goods such as market differentiation, reputation and quality standards. A GI certificate also confers legal protection to the product and safeguards it against unauthorized use by other countries or producers, besides eliminating unfair competition for the benefit of genuine producers and consumers.
RIL had filed applications on 15 September 2005 with the Geographical Indications Registry, headquartered in Chennai, for registering five GIs—Reliance Jamnagar petrol, Reliance Jamnagar diesel, Reliance Jamnagar LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), Reliance Jamnagar fuel and Krishna Godavari gas.
The registry is attached to the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, and is part of the Union ministry of commerce and industry. The controller is also the registrar of the Geographical Indications Registry.
A consultative group, formed by the controller to assess the application, recommended acceptance of the applications in respect of Reliance Jamnagar petrol, Reliance Jamnagar diesel, Reliance Jamnagar LPG and Reliance Jamnagar fuel after deleting Reliance from the GI name.
The group also asked RIL to submit a no-objection certificate from the petroleum and natural gas ministry before considering the application in respect of KG basin gas.
The four Jamnagar applications were advertised in the Geographical Indications Journal, the official journal of the GI Registry, inviting possible objections to the products being registered for GIs, according to procedure. Subsequently, the GI Registry received four oppositions filed by three lawyers and one Indian legal academic based in London, against the applications.
“It is a fact that Reliance Industries Ltd has withdrawn the applications in respect of products made at its Jamnagar refinery,” P.H. Kurian, controller general of patents, designs and trade marks, said in a telephone interview from Mumbai. “The GI application on the Krishna-Godavari gas has been treated as abandoned by the GI Registry because of lack of prosecution (a technical word used by the GI Registry for the applicant not showing interest in pursuing the case),” he said.
The GI Registry posted the oppositions for hearing in July, but RIL withdrew the four Jamnagar applications before they were heard, said another official at the registry who didn’t want to be identified. RIL’s application to register KG gas as a GI was treated as abandoned because it could not produce a no-objection certificate from the petroleum and natural gas ministry, this official added.
The case is not related to the legal battle that Mukesh Ambani-controlled RIL is waging with Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, headed by his estranged younger brother Anil Ambani, over the KG basin gas.
According to patent experts, the RIL attempt to register its Jamnagar and KG basin products as GI was not in compliance with the law.
“The fundamental question involved in this matter was whether the geographical indication applied for by RIL is qualified to be a GI at all,” said Anoop Narayanan, partner at law firm Majmudar and Co. that specializes in intellectual property laws.
Under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, an application can be filed only by an association of persons or producers or any organization or authority established by or under any law representing the interests of the producers of the goods. “Therefore, an individual company which does not represent the interest of the producers of the goods in the geographical locality (representing its own interest), cannot be an eligible applicant of a GI,” Narayanan said. Also, “it is doubtful whether the petroleum products can claim given quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to the geographical area of Jamnagar”.