Khadi: Pride and Prejudice
For Indians, the term ‘Khadi’ has a patriotic notion attached to it that finds its roots in the Swadeshi movement spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s Freedom Struggle way back in the early twentieth century. Mahatma Gandhi spun Khadi deep into the hearts of Indians to generate the feeling of self-reliance and independence which provided the much needed strength to revolt against the foreign rule. It thus gained huge prominence by the time Indians got their independence in year 1947. However, the prominence didn’t flourished for too long and became dormant with the passage of time. So much that even Gujarat, very the birth state of Mahatma Gandhi, has witnessed a drastic decline in the commercial activity related to Khadi in the recent years.
But it seems that the government has now decided to come out of its coffin. It has objected to the use of Khadi as a trademark by a German Company named Khadi Natureprodukte for selling a series of products that includes kajal and lipsticks, under the trademark Khadi in European Market. As per the Indian records, trademark Khadi is registered by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) for various categories of goods that includes both textile as well as non-textile goods. However, in Europe, KVIC doesn’t enjoys such protection. It seems that the Government has realized the apprehensions and has thus decided to seek protection under several countries by filing an application under the Madrid Protocol.
Khadi issue is an addition to an array of controversial goods like Neem, Turmeric and Haldi that have developed a unique genre of their own under Indian IPR regime. Where Neem and Turmeric have been invoked as a part of India’s Traditional Knowledge to bar patenting of their uses by MNCs, several patents related to processing of Basmati Rice granted to a Texas based company were cancelled due to vehement opposition by India on the grounds of Bio-Piracy. The establishment of Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has been a direct result of the neem/turmeric controversy.
Nevertheless, unlike earlier cases, the situation in Khadi issue is little more complex. European company’s description of goods for the mark doesn’t includes textile goods or fabric. India has to protect its interest under Common Law as unregistered trademark user for which it has to show that it has been using the trademark for the similar goods before the date on which the European Company has made its filing. This is going to be an arduous task. It can possibly get protection under EU only after it’s able to strike off the already existing trademarks from latter’s records permanently. And since trademarks are territorial in nature, the same process has to be pursued for the US also, where the same company has procured similar trademark registrations. Meanwhile, it’s also worth noticing that a GI application for the mark Khadi is already pending with the Geographical Indications Registry. But its registration would mean jeopardizing the already registered trademarks, which can enrage various trade associations and individual traders.
An adage in law says that “the equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights”. Where the German company had been ardently protecting its rights on an international level, the Indian authorities were sleeping with their heads down. The indolent attitude is apparent from the fact that several domestic proprietors have got through the registration process for their marks bearing the term Khadi, without any opposition from KVIC. This episode also makes it clear that the establishment of KVIC and Khadi Board has turned out to be a complete disaster. Had they done their job properly, Khadi might have garnered enough popularity to be categorized as a “Well Known trademark”.
It’s noteworthy that Europe is not the first country to grant protection to use Khadi for selling goods in its territory. The alleged German company had registered the marks KHADI and KHADI NATURAL PRODUCTS FROM INDIA with the USPTO in year 2013 and 2011 respectively. Indian authorities should stop reacting to situations after they occur. It’s high time that they become proactive in their approach. Merely presenting Foreign Premiers with Khadi Waistcoats and Khadi-Bound Bhagwathgitas, or conducting fashion shows may not suffice. This unique material is a matter of pride for India, not a mere piece of fabric.
Edited By: Lipsa Dash and Swosti Panda
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