Kualalumpur: Malaysia has granted trademark rights of a popular non-basmati rice variety grown in South India to a local trading firm, reminiscent of the US issuing patent on basmati to RiceTec Inc. in 1997.
Patent issues: Different varieties of rice at a shop in New Delhi. India has recently empowered its Agriculture Export Promotion Agency to protect indigenous farm products from being patented abroad.
Syarikat Faiza Sdn Bhd, which imports Sona Masoori Ponni rice from India, registered the variety under the Malaysian Trademark Act and sent legal notices to other importers asking them not to use the word ‘Ponni’ to describe their product.
One of the aggrieved importers has challenged the trademark given to Faiza and the trademark department has assured that it would cancel the ‘Ponni’ registration, which, however, is yet to happen.
“You cannot register the variety Ponni, it is like registering basmati. Ponni belongs to India and it cannot be registered in Malaysia,” said Rajasekaran Thiyagarajan, a lawyer representing a Malaysian firm that has been told by Faiza not to use the name ‘Ponni’ on its rice imports.
Ponni is a derivative of a cross between Taichung65 and Myang Ebos 6080/2 varieties. A pure line selection named White Ponni was released by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in 1986.
Trademark for Ponni rice could not be issued since it denoted a variety of paddy released by TNAU and produced by millions of farmers in South India for over two decades, TNAU professor N. Raveendaran said in a letter to the lawyer.
“If the Ponni variety is registered in this country, then it can be registered worldwide,” Thiyagarajan said, adding that “India should be more vigilant to such issues”.
Only on 15 May, India empowered its Agriculture Export Promotion Agency to protect indigenous farm and horticulture products from being patented abroad.
Thiyagarajan said Ponni was a description of a brand and there should be no restriction on its use.
“My client has received an injunction from Faiza asking them to stop using Ponni on their bags of rice. We are appealing against the injunction,” he said.
Thiyagarajan added that his client could take action against the Malaysian trademark body for allowing the registration of Ponni. “It is a mistake of the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia to register Ponni.”
The non-basmati premium variety Ponni rice is very popular among Indians in Malaysia.
It is also exported to several countries, including Singapore, the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the US and South Africa, from southern India.