Pashmina and the Changpa’s of Ladakh, India
Cashmere wool or simply cashmere is one of the most luxurious and most expensive natural fabrics.
Cashmere is made from the processing of the hair of Capra Hircus goat that lives on the Tibetan highlands, in the Himalayas and principally in Mongolia. Because the processing of the wool was first developed in the region of Kashmir, the name of the region has thus become the generic name of the fabric. The uplands of Ladakh and Tibet are the most authentic regions for cashmere wool. The Capra Hircus lives at an average altitude of 4,000 meters, an animal that, now domesticated in Mongolia, is also known as the Pashmina goat. To cope with the extreme temperatures that can reach as low as -40°C and the long winter, lasting six months, the animal is covered with a thick wool coat formed of long hairs.
The dangers facing pashmina, at a product level, and traditional knowledge involved in its production, are twofold.
The registration of Kashmir pashmina as a geographical indication is increasingly important in the current IP climate as India is arguing, along with other developing countries, for the expansion of Article 23 of TRIPS. Under the TRIPS Agreement, geographical indications are defined as ‘place names used to identify the origin and quality, reputation or other characteristics of products’. The registration of Kashmir pashmina at the national level is an essential criterion for the award of global protection. The Indian government has become more cautious in protecting geographical indications in the light of a recent decision of the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which upheld the Tea Board of India’s claim for the indication, mark and logo for Darjeeling tea.
GIs thus involve a certification of origin or reputation, based on certain natural or human factors which are specific to a region. The history, culture, reputation and characteristics of a particular product based on geographical origin is the basis behind the claim of producers that only they have the right to use a particular appellation, having satisfied the required standards. Moreover, it must be remembered that GIs, by their very nature, are communitarian forms of protection. This is why many feel that they are probably the only existing forms of protection which may be used to secure rights in traditional knowledge.