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Posted on December 14, 2010

Tirupati's famous laddus face battle on GI tag

GI registry asks for counter-arguments

BY Siddharth Kumar

Tirupati's famous laddus, the iconic sweet offered to devotees as prasadam at the world famous Lord Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh, now find itself at the centre of a bitter controversy over the grant of a geographical indication (GI) tag to this sacred sweetmeat.

Barely a year after getting protection under the intellectual property rights (IPRs), the laddu is now facing a threat that could see it losing this coveted tag.

The Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams (TTD), the trust which runs the temple that is believed to be the world's richest Hindu shrine and also has the highest number of visitors, are busy preparing legal documents to prove that their laddus merit a GI certification.

The Chennai-based Geographical Indications Registry, the registered authority for GI certification in India, has issued a notice to TTD that seeking counter-statements to retain this coveted tag.

GI is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that origin. Once registered, the certification legally prohibits others to use the same brand or name for commercial or any other use.

Globally, Scotch whisky, Champagne and tequila are some of the other products that enjoy this status.

The GI Registry, which works under the office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks -- part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry -- has sent a letter to TTD in response to an application filed by a Kerala-based IPR activist, RS Praveen Raj.

Raj had approached the registry in October this year seeking the removal of GI for Tirupati laddu. He argued that GI tag for these sweets pointed towards the complete commercialisation of religion. "Giving the Tirupati laddu a GI tag gives out a wrong message to the public, that temple prasadams are akin to industrial goods," he said.

PH Kurian, the controller general of patents, designs and trademarks, refused to comment, saying, "It is a legal matter. There will be a hearing, once we will get counter-statement from TTD in this regard."

Officials say it will take about four months to reach a final conclusion. "There are several procedures which we have to follow. We will proceed further after getting response from TTD," said GL Verma, deputy registrar of trademarks & GI.

A person familiar with the situation explained that TTD had sought GI protection for these laddus, the most sought-after prasadam for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who throng Tirumala, to avoid it being replicated and sold on the black market by hawkers and middlemen.

TTD authorities did not respond to an email query. Several calls to the executive officer as well as public relations officer too remained unanswered.

When contacted, Praveen Anand, a veteran IPR expert lawyer at Anand & Anand -- the legal advisor to TTD on this issue -- said that there are "negligible chances" that the GI tag will be removed.

"It is a case where the GI was granted after detailed considerations and I do not think it can be removed so easily," Anand said.

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Posted on December 14, 2010



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