Industry group seeks GI status for Scotch whisky in India

Industry group seeks GI status for Scotch whisky in India

The Scotch Whisky Association, which represents whisky distillers and exporters of Europe, is planning to register the geographical indication (GI) status of Scotch whisky in India.

The decision comes after the group lost a trademark case in May against Bangalore-based Khoday India Ltd, an Indian distiller that makes the Peter Scot whisky. The group has hired New Delhi-based law firm Anand and Anand to file the application with the Controller General of Patents Designs and Trademarks.

GI is a status used for goods that have a specific place of origin and possess qualities or reputations that are due to that origin, such as Darjeeling tea. Globally, the use of the word scotch is understood to indicate a whisky’s manufacture in Scotland. There is no such GI marker for scotch in India.

“We are moving the application for registering a geographical indication for Scotch whisky in India," said Gavin Hawitt, chief executive of the association. “We realize that there is a strong system existing in India now to protect GI rights. Registering the geographical indication for the scotch whisky will help us in stopping others using this place-related title on whisky brands which are not made in Scotland. This will also help us in fighting such cases arising out of illegal use of this reputed whisky mark in the country."

Says Pravin Anand, partner at Anand and Anand: “Moving an application for such intellectual property rights or geographical indication necessarily depends on the comfort level of the applicant within the system that is available worldwide."

In May, the Supreme Court of India ruled that a trademark registered by Khoday India for its whisky brand Peter Scot in the local market was valid and that the company could continue using it. This ruling closed a nearly two-decades-old challenge by the group against Khoday’s right to have a non-Scotch whisky brand called Peter Scot because of the similarity between the words “Scot" and “Scotch".

Hawitt said anyone using the sign Scotch for whisky brands that don’t qualify for the same in origin, quality and characteristic specifications is cheating the consumer.

If the application is successful, it is likely to trigger large-scale withdrawal of labels on several premium Indian whisky brands, which are distilled or bottled in India and sold locally as scotch. Once the GI registration is granted, these premium whiskies will have to necessarily change the label information as “blended with Scotch whisky bulk", or entirely remove the word Scotch from the label.