From Birmingham, With Love!!
Marcus Tillius Cicero, a Roman Philosopher who lived in an era before the birth of Christ once said that “soil of their native land is dear to all the hearts of mankind”. The concept of Appellation of Origin was devised in the later half of twentieth century, but it would not be wrong to argue that one of the reasons for its uniqueness among all other streams of Intellectual Property lies in the aforesaid adage. Geographical Indications (or Appellation of Origin) have this inherent ability to drive our attention through their unique terminology. Parma Ham, Roquefort Cheese, Georgian Wine, Pinggu Peaches, Solapur Chaddar, Mysore Agarbathi, Bikaneri Bhujia, etc. are a few examples of registered GIs all over the world. These IP Assets are ear-catchy because of their native terminology which sounds very dear to the citizen of that particular country. This blog is also about one such ear catchy GI that has been making news recently.
It’s spelled as ‘Birmingham Balti’. It’s a special kind of curry that is served in a bowl that is shaped like a pressed steel bucket. Now where Birmingham comes in? Actually in UK, many people believe that the dish has its origin in the British town of Birmingham and thus deserves protection as a Geographical Indication. The dish traces its origin in mid-1970s when residents of a locality, most of them belonging to the Pakistani-Kashmiri community, invented this dish through a unique method. The dish was allegedly imitated by many restraunts in UK and gained popularity as ‘balti curry’ or simply ‘balti’. The term balti thus became generic in UK for curry and thus protection has been sought under the name ‘Birmingham Balti’ rather than just Balti. The dish is so popular that it gave the whole city of Birmingham an altogether new identity, Balti Triangle.
The protection has been sought by none other than the Birmingham City Council and if it is able to procure the registration, it would mean that anyone who is using the said method for making the curry must denote it as Birmingham Balti. Unlike Nations where there is a separate mechanism for registration of Appellation of Origin, in European Union, no individual country mechanism is there. Party seeking registration of a GI has to file an application with the EU, which offers protection through its Protected Food Name Scheme. The city council has sought protection under “Traditional Specialty Guaranteed” head which means that only those curries that follow the exact recipe can use the name.
Europeans have been ardent protectors of their talent. Over 1000 names have been protected in Europe as GIs with Italy and France accounting for approximately 500 GIs. United Kingdom lags on this frontier with approximately 60 GIs registered as of now. If granted with the registration, Birmingham Balti will be the first curry in the Europe which will get a legally recognized status.
To or readers who do not belong to the Indian Sub-continent, please note that the term ‘Balti’ is an urdu term which means ‘Bucket’ in English. However, just because a GI has been procured by an association in UK doesn’t means that the word ‘Balti’ will lose its commercial significance. The term Balti is a generic one and just like trademarks, it doesn’t qualifies for protection as an Appellation of Origin. As for Birmingham Balti, it will be interesting to see if EU would espouse the curry. Protecting a particular recipe, which is basically a ‘process’ (a technical term in Patent Law), as an Appellation of Origin would mean that its owner can actually prevent others from making and using the term ‘Birmingham Balti’ for a dish if it is not made in that particular fashion. The implications will be interesting. Just imagine if French Fries gets a GI tomorrow and if its maker at some local fast-food centre couldn’t get the recipe right, he might actually get into a legal trouble. I know it’s far-fetched to argue something like this at this point of time, but we must not forget that famous delicacies have their own parameters and when you try to copy it for your own benefit, you better comply with the said parameters.
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