KUALA LUMPUR: A rice dealer lost its right to use the name ponni for its rice variant because of geographical indication, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind here.
In allowing a civil action by six Indian applicants here yesterday, Justice Azahar Mohamad said Syarikat Faiza Sdn Bhd was not entitled to register the word ponni as a trademark.
The judge ruled that ponni is descriptive of a variety of rice originating from Tamil Nadu in India and recognisable to consumers as such.
Geographical indication means a protection of particular products coming from particular jurisdictions.
In the court documents, the six applicants claimed that ponni rice was named after – and in tribute to – the Kaveri Delta region in India. (The Kaveri river is also known locally as the Ponni river). They filed their civil action on Jan 22.
The six include the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of India (Apeda), which safeguards and enforces the rights of Indian agriculture on behalf of the Indian government.
Another applicant is the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), which claims to be responsible for developing the ponni rice variety in 1971 and is the author of the ponni mark.
The other stakeholders are Indian farmers and exporters, who claimed that the exclusive use of the word as a trade mark would affect their ability to trade in ponni rice.
The six applicants claimed the ponni trademark was wrongly entered in the Malaysian Trade Marks Register as the respondent is neither the proprietor of ponni as a trademark, nor is author of the name.
Justice Azahar said the use of ponni by the respondent as a trademark is bound to cause confusion and consumers would be misled.
Justice Azahar ordered that the ponni trademark registration by Faiza be expunged and removed from the Malaysian Register of Trade Marks.
Speaking to reporters, the applicants’ lead counsel Karen Abraham said it was the first case in line with the geographical indication protection, where the court recognised a variety of rice from a particular place.