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Ishita Ayan Dutt | January 03, 2004

It was a David and Goliath battle. On one side was the Government-run Tea Board of India.

On the other was the Bvlgari the Italian luxury goods maker beloved by socialites around the world. The cause of the battle was the Italian company's decision to launch a fragrance named "Darjeeling Tea fragrance for men".

Amazingly, the Tea Board, the David of the battle, walked away victorious after Bvlgari agreed to change the name of its new fragrance.

The battle with Bvlgari is one of many that the Tea Board is fighting around the world. In recent years it has launched around 15 cases against companies that have attached the Darjeeling tag to their products.

The scorecard: five victories, six losses and four that are still to be decided. Says Tea Board chairman N K Das: "There is a long battle ahead."

That isn't the only fight that the Tea Board has on its hands. According to the board's calculations around 40 million kg of tea is sold each year around the world under the Darjeeling label.

That is almost four times the actual production of 11 million kg annually.

Protecting the Darjeeling brand isn't a cheap business. In the last four years the Tea Board has spent about Rs 94 lakh (Rs 9.4 million) to fight the battle on various fronts.

The money has been spent on protective moves like hiring an international watch agency to keep it informed about anyone attempting to use the Darjeeling brand.

Also, it has spent heavily on registering the trade name and on legal fees and court battles. Tea Board officials reckon that costs could climb by another Rs 40 lakh (Rs 4 million) annually because it is fighting more legal cases.

The costs could rise even further because lawyers everywhere in the world are notoriously expensive.

Recently, the Tea Board hired Denton Wilde Sapte, a leading UK law firm, to advise it on the administration of the Darjeeling certification system worldwide. Also, its in-house systems have had to be improved to keep track of its monitoring role around the world.

The Tea Board knows that it could face a long battle ahead as it attempts to turn Darjeeling into a protected name used only for tea from the region.

In recent years, it has found itself up against lingerie makers who thought that the name was their cup of tea, and even a telecommunications company.

At another level, one of its opponents argued that Darjeeling is a generic word for tea in the United States.

In the long run, the board is trying to push the Darjeeling brand into a position where it will be on par with Scotch whisky, champagne and Havana cigars.

In all these cases the product name indicates the district or region where the product comes from. So, Scotch whisky has to be made in Scotland and champagne in the Champagne district of France.

At home one of the first moves has been to get "home protection" by registering a Darjeeling logo and also the word "Darjeeling" as a certification trade mark under the Indian Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958.

A second, and even more important step is to get Darjeeling registered under the Indian Geographical Indication of Goods (registration and protection) Act 1999.

The act is intended to cover situations like this and it came into force on September 15. The Tea Board wants Darjeeling tea to be registered as a 'geographical indication'.

On the international front the Tea Board has joined an organisation called ORIGIN. This is a global network of more than 100 producers from 24 countries who've teamed up to protect and promote geographical indications.

The organisation acts as a forum where information can be exchanged and where countries can swap technology and expertise.

Says Das: "Every country is moving towards geographical indications. It is a great marketing tool."

Geographical indications have gained importance in recent years with powerful groups like the Scotch and champagne manufacturers campaigning for it vociferously.

As a result it has been given a specific protection under TRIPs (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

Geographical indications are defined as a product as originating in a country or a region thereof, whose quality, reputation or other characteristic is attributable to its geographical origin. In all these cases, the product name indicates the origin.

Why is Darjeeling tea a geographical indication? The Tea Board argues, "the tea is produced in a well-defined geographical area. The tea produced has distinctive characteristics of quality and flavour and have enjoyed global recognition and reputation for well over 100 years."

In addition, it argues that the quality, reputation and characteristics of the tea are essentially attributable to its geographical origin and cannot be replicated anywhere else.

The Tea Board's moves are strongly backed by producers. Says Sanjay Bansal, vice chairman, Darjeeling Planters' Association: "The action of the Tea Board will enhance the value of Darjeeling tea."

The DPA is also joining the fray and is sending delegations abroad as part of the awareness campaign.

One delegation is travelling to Germany, UK, USA and Japan for discussions with importers and the marketing companies. Darjeeling tea is marketed by a host of marketing companies and at multiple levels.

Bharat Bajoria, past chairman Indian Tea Association and owner of gardens in Darjeeling also backs the Tea Board's moves. He believes that misuse of the Darjeeling name is not as rampant as the board fears.

Nevertheless, Bajoria feels the campaign will, "help the industry and hence the industry should lend it all its support."

The Indian tea industry has been facing tough competition around the world from countries like Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Kenya, which have established themselves in an industry that was once dominated by India.

Protecting the Darjeeling brand will be the first move to ensuring that Indian tea once again becomes the cuppa of choice around the world.

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