The Ooty Varkey Producers Welfare Association (“OVPWA”) has recently filed an application for registration of a Geographical Indication (“GI”) for the ‘Ooty Varkey’ biscuits. As claimed, the Ooty Varkey is a biscuit unique to the Nilgiri District and its manufacture could be traced back to the British era. This naturally turns one’s attention to the pre-requisites for grant of a GI. According to Section 2(e) of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (“ The GI Act”) affords protection to goods that must:

  1. Be agricultural/natural/manufactured goods;
  2. Where a given quality, reputation, or characteristic of goods is attributable to its origin;
  3. In case where such goods are manufactured goods, one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality.

The OVPWA claims that these biscuits deserve GI protection because they are unique to the region as they are actually:

  1. Hand-made (only mixing of flour, sugar, salt and water is done by machines);
  2. Made from the water flowing from the Nilgiri hills giving them a unique taste;
  3. Climatic conditions of Nilgiri District are unique and ideal to support their manufacturing;
  4. The biscuits are baked on firewood ovens on a moderate heat;
  5. Varkey cannot be produced in other places where the temperature is above 25 Degree Celsius.

Contentious issues:

  1. Careful analysis and inquiries (of climate, ingredients of recipe, preparation process etc.) to establish an unmistakable link between the Varkey biscuits and the Nilgiri District (exclusively) may be required and the Registry may as well conduct thorough factual as well as scientific studies into ascertaining the claimed geographical link.
  2. If the association filing this application represents all the producers/manufacturers of these goods. This may require thorough examination as the GI Act attempts to bring in a ‘collective ownership’ framework wherein all those who are directly engaged in exploiting, creating or manufacturing the goods are protected and benefit from the registration. It appears from press reports that there is no specific group of producers of the Varkey biscuits (refer representations A & B below). Unlike most other GI’s that originate from closer knit producer groups, these biscuits can be produced by a wide variety of producers: from household producers to tea shops to bakeries to established companies. In other words, there seems to be no clear mention of quality standards and the collective group of producers.

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  1. Home-made Varkey Biscuits 

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  1. Commercially produced Varkey Biscuits
  1. As the threshold of GI protection is very high due to the pre-requisites for filing an application and the detailed specifications of the subject matter involved. It would be interesting to see if GI can be granted to a subject matter (Varkey Biscuits) which can be manufactured in more than one geographical place (with similar climatic conditions) and by using more than one method.