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How Much Intellectual Property (IP) is There in Your Tea?

Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, surpassed only by water. And it is a beverage that can be enjoyed hot or cold, so people of all ages find it appealing. In addition to the fact that approximately 20-30% of the world's tea is produced in India, more than eight out of ten Indian homes consume tea. Isn’t that an extremely huge number? Imagine resting at home with a cup of chamomile tea, reaping the health benefits of green tea, or nourishing your body with antioxidants with a cup of ginger tea. The feeling of having tea is relaxing for many people.

Now there are different varieties of tea, but the most widely used is the “Orthodox Tea” which is processed in a traditional way. Only the top two tender leaves and an unopened leaf bud are typically present in orthodox teas, which are then meticulously hand-picked to create the myriad of different types of tea we know and love today (note: While tea plants do have small flowers, the "buds" tea people refer to are the young, unopened leaves, not flowers). Countries today are fighting neck to neck to acquire the global tea trade monopoly owing to the high demand of tea. Did you know China, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka are the top four tea-producing nations, accounting for 75% of global production?

We bet you’ll be amazed to see how well thought, organised and profitable the tea business is. Let’s not waste any more time and get straight to the point! Let’s look how much IP goes in a cup of Tea!

Copyrights in Tea

The information booklet giving an idea about origin of the given brand, instructions of making a perfect cup of tea is eligible for protection under copyrights. Let’s say you see a pamphlet of different types of tea and benefits offered by those teas along with some creatives and graphics displayed in a presentable manner, then, it will be considered as a creative work that can be copyrighted.

Trademarks in Tea

Do you remember brand names? Of course, everyone does! Lipton Ice tea is everyone's favourite, isn't it? Many people love tea from a particular brand and have a liking towards a particular texture. Some brands have a peculiar taste, aroma and flavour that make them stand out from the crowd! How are these teas differentiated? A quick answer here - By their brand identity - that is their 'Trademarks'.

Some of the notable tea trademarks that elite customers famously choose are:

1. Twinings Tea

One of the first tea brands ever created. It was founded in England (1706) by Thomas Twining, and today it is one of the world's leading luxury tea firms.

2. Harney & Sons

Founded in 1983 by John Harney, Harney & Sons offers the best hand-picked, whole-leaf teas from the best tea farms and gardens available.

3. Palais des Thes Paris

Palais des Thes, a French tea company founded in Paris in 1986, offers tea enthusiasts a broad and varied selection of superb teas from the best gardens in Asia as well as trademark flavoured teas inspired by travel and created in Paris.

Trade Dress in Tea

The trade dress of a given tea brand has a great deal of importance due to the increased competitiveness in the commercial sector for tea trading. Trade dress refers to a product's exterior look, including its packaging, combination of colours, textures, graphics, shape, as well as the product’s placement at its point-of-sale (store layout) and other composite aspects that set it apart from the competitors.

When it comes to product packaging the first impression is the last. There are many different styles of tea packaging on the market. These include corrugated disposable paper flasks, foil stand-up pouches, paper pouches, tea boxes, and foil gusset bags. One that wins our hearts every time is the Poet Tea.

Poet Tea's sophisticated aesthetic is understated yet striking. There are different colours for different flavours of tea. For its customers, the tin container designs are timeless classics that evoke nostalgia, because the look is very old school. Tin can packaging for loose leaf tea is also a very wise choice because every consumer would like to save the lovely design in their home for storage needs. The Poet Tea’s natural and organic tea from the hills of Sri Lanka is reflected on its package as well through the little organic flourishes and detailing. This sums up how effectively a trade dress works!

Patents in Tea

As tea is a natural resource and its flavour is its inherent character, tea cannot be patented as it is.

Having said that, tea-making equipment, tea drinking apparatus, and use of tea in medical and herbal compositions are protected under patents. Tea-making machines and devices are one of the most widely protected inventions all over the world.

The legal status of patents is varied but most patents have lapsed owing to the high timeframe that the tea related aspects became popular.

China has the most number of patents owing to the huge production of tea in its area and research and development going on to boost the present developments going on in tea related innovations like tissue culture, flavour intensification and other organoleptic properties.

Unilever, Nestle, and Nestec are the most important players that rule the tea market. These giants have been in the game for a very long time and now they have become a household name. No wonder they have the most number of patents assigned to them!

The application rose drastically from 2012 onwards. This can be attributed to the fact that the print and digital media contributed a lot in popularizing tea and tea products and accessories.

Geographical Indications (GI Tags) in Tea

Although tea is also grown in South America, the Black and Caspian Sea region, and other places, tea is mainly grown in Asia and Africa.

The world produced 7.0 million tonnes of tea in 2020, with China accounting for 42% of the amount and India for 20%.

Smaller production centres can be found in locations such So Miguel Island, the Azores in Portugal, and Guria in Georgia. Secondary producers were Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Argentina.

It is important to understand that not all manufacturers choose to make use of the GI tags. Not all indicators are protected abroad; many are only protected at the point of origin, which means that only certain products can have a logo, mark, or name "stamped" on them before they are shipped. Considering that teas are frequently repackaged by importing wholesalers or retailers and that a logo mark on the goods when it was exported doesn't always end up on the consumer-facing product makes this challenge considerably more challenging for tea.

Indian tea has long been renowned for its superiority. Some tea varietals, such as Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri teas, are only grown in India but are in high demand worldwide. Darjeeling teas stand out from other teas due to their delicate colouring and light flavour.

In light of these considerations, Darjeeling tea in particular and Indian tea generally required complete protection under the guise of IPR (intellectual property rights) and GI (geographical indications), in accordance with Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which the WTO governs. And finally in 2004 – DARJEELING TEA was registered as Geographical Indication as Sl. No. 1 & 2 (India’s First GI tag).

Famous GI-Tagged Teas are:

Nilgiri Orthodox Tea

The Nilgiri district in Tamil Nadu's southern Western Ghats is where the tea from that region is grown. Over 70% of this fragrant, flavoured tea is exported. The Nilgiri orthodox tea is a recognised GI, despite the fact that both orthodox and CTC (crush, tear, curl) teas are made here. Additionally, it holds the unusual distinction of being India's 100th commodity to receive GI designation.

Assam Orthodox Tea

The history of tea production has a special place for the Indian state of Assam. It is the only location with native tea plants and the greatest tea-growing region in the world, with the exception of Southern China.

Assam produces CTC tea as well as traditional tea. Since 2008, GI has helped brand the wildly popular Assam Orthodox Tea. The Assam Orthodox tag may only be applied to teas that are "produced and made out of the basic Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica and other varieties in tea farms located in the Brahmaputra or Assam Valley in northeastern India."

Sangzhi White Tea

White tea has a history that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, which controlled China from 1271 to 1368. It is a tradition among the Bai ethnic group. The tea, which is faintly sweet and has anti-inflammatory properties, did not garner much notice on the market. Sangzhi White Tea was included in the national geographical trademark of China's protected goods list in 2019.


Intellectual property can be in anything! In your tea as well as the tea machine in which you made the tea in! Different facets of intellectual property are used to protect the most important aspects of the tea - its essence, identity and origin.

According to a UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) study, agricultural products with GI registration do command a price premium of 10 to 15 percent. That is significant from a business point of view. Because of the unique and peculiar way that these things are produced, people frequently place a high value on them. This is impacted by the distinctive geographical characteristics of the location where such products are made or cultivated or by the unique and exceptional natural circumstances of the area where such products are produced. Additionally, IP rights encourage innovators to use and advertise their innovations in the marketplace.

Now you can go back to have your cup of tea. But remember all that you’ve read about the IP in your tea!



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