In a significant victory for rice growers and exporters, India has won the trademark case against a Malaysian firm which was granted the registration for the ‘Ponni’ rice, a non-basmati aromatic variety grown in Tamil Nadu.
A High Court in Malaysia on Tuesday ruled that Syarikat Faiza cannot use the ‘Ponni’ label for its rice products, according to a report in Bernama news agency. In 2006, Malaysian firm Syarikat Faiza was issued a certificate, making it the registered proprietor of the ‘Ponni’ trademark in Malaysia. The firm had been importing Ponni rice variety from India and was distributing it in Malaysia under the ‘Taj Mahal’ brand name. Early 2000, the company sought registration of ‘Ponni’ under the Malaysian Trade Marks Act.
The Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda), under the ministry of commerce had contested the trademark certification on Tuesday stated that Malaysian authorities have upheld its position that ‘Ponni’ rice belongs to India.”The judgement implies that Ponni variety of rice remains with us,” Asit Tripathy, chairman, Apeda told FE.
The judgement would also prevent Syarikat Faiza from importing rice from Thailand or other key producing countries and sell it as ‘Ponni’ within Malaysia.
This victory may be symbolic as India had imposed ban on exports of non-basmati rice back in April, 2008. Prior to the ban, India used to export around 1.5 lakh tonne of Ponni rice, annually. Out of this, an estimated 15,000 tonne was for Malaysia.
During 2007-08, the country exported non-basmati rice worth of Rs 7,396 crore against Rs 4,243 crore during the previous fiscal, which is rise of more than 74%.
Farmers in Tamil Nadu have been protesting over Malaysia being granted trademark rights for the rice variety. White Ponni rice was developed by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in 1986 and is cultivated in thousands of acres in Tamil Nadu.
Syarikat Faiza has since the late 1990s been importing Ponni rice from India and distributing it in Malaysia under the ‘Taj Mahal’ brand. Around mid-2000, the company went a step ahead and sought registration of ‘Ponni’ itself as a Class 30 trademark pertaining to rice under the Malaysian Trade Marks Act.
While the export ban on non-basmati rice is expected to be lifted soon because of the prospects of better rice output, experts feel that there are many high-value, non-basmati rice varieties which can match aroma, texture and taste normally associated with basmati rice and could be promoted to harness their export potential.
An compendium of aromatic short grain rice prepared by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and Apeda has identified varieties such as kalanamak, tilakchandan and jeerabati (UP), kala jeera (Orissa), katrani ( Bihar), etc