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Trademark Row over “Khadi”

As per recent news in The Times of India, the Indian government is bracing itself for a trademark battle against German Company’s “Khadi Naturprodukte” over the handspun fabric that was made a centrepiece of India’s freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi. The government has made objections to the use of Khadi as a trademark for selling a range of Indian-origin products, including shampoos, soaps and oils in the European markets and which can be purchased online too.

Traditionally Khadi is known as handspun and handwoven cloth. During the period of the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi started the Swadeshi Movement. Khadi was spun from indigenous cotton for making clothes, which were known as khaddar or khadi. Khadi not only gave clothes to the poor masses but also gave them self reliance and ideology for life. Britishers suffered heavy losses when Indians started using Khadi instead of imported expensive clothes and thus khadi made a significant contribution to the Indian freedom struggle. Undoubtedly Khadi is traditionally Indian and is more than just cloth.

The Government’s attempt to promote Khadi is facing some trademark hurdles as this brand is registered abroad, in countries such as Germany, Spain and Hungary. It looks similar to the case of Haldi, Basmati rice and Neem where traditional Indian intellectual properties have been registered in the west. Khadi is the latest instance of infringement of intellectual property rights.

The German firm says on its website that “Khadi” is a unique brand for the European market and only exclusively available with us.” Products listed on its website include shampoos, soaps and oils which overlap with what KVIC sells under a similar brand, but the current list doesn’t include fabric.

There is a pending application for granting the status of ‘geographical indication’ or GI on Khadi to India. This refers to products that are specific to a particular place, such as Darjeeling tea. A few months ago, the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Attorneys Association sought a GI tag for Khadi products on behalf of all Indian producers. The application is still pending and if the attempt succeeds, all trademarks granted to khadi for the fabric would get cancelled.

The department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) has suggested KVIC get an international trademark under the Madrid Protocol. A trademark would be proof of authenticity and will also provide legal protection. Shri BH Anil Kumar, joint secretary in the MSME ministry said: “There will be more value-added consumables so that khadi does not remain a synonym for a fabric, but connotes a lifestyle”.

“We will put all our force and strength to try and ensure that this trademark is cancelled,” a DIPP official said.

In order to prevent further infringement of IP in Indian traditional herbs and agricultural products or in other words to prevent “bio-piracy”, the government of India has formed a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) in order to provide information on traditional knowledge existing in the country.

Finally, it seems that Khadi may get its dues if the KVIC efforts are successful. “Khadi” is not just a “Trademark” but it is an icon of national pride, a symbol of economic independence and a means of employment to thousands of people especially in villages where livelihood depends on “Khadi”. Hence it needs to be protected at against IP Infringements.

About the Author: Ms Pallavi Sharma, Trademark Attorney at Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys and can be reached at [email protected]

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