No specific laws to protect traditional cultural expressions and designs
There are currently no specific laws on protecting Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs) such as the Kushuthara and other woven textile patterns in the country.
This has become a concern especially in the wake of adulteration of the Bhutanese woven textiles and patterns made and produced by the Indian companies in the Bhutanese market.
A similar pattern of the Bhutanese woven textile, especially the Kira and Gho, is being produced in the market today at a much cheaper price.
Meanwhile, the Department
of Intellectual Property (DoIP) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for the registration and administration of intellectual property in the country. The objects of intellectual property are the creations of the human mind and the human intellect.
The Intellectual Property Officer from the DoIP, Kuenga Dorji, said there are no specific laws currently protecting TCEs.
“Even at the international or global stage, there is no specific multilateral legal instrument providing for the protection of TCEs such as traditional textile patterns although the international community has been working towards an international framework since 1967,” he said.
Meanwhile, the intellectual property rights provide the owners with the exclusive legal rights from exploitation of their work or product and reap benefits from their intellectual property.
However, the issue of a globally accepted and applicable regime for regulating TCEs in IP law remains unresolved to date. The general character and modes of creation of TCEs place them at an ambiguous position vis-a-vis the IP law, which requires distinct modes of authorship of protected works, tangibility, fixation and duration of rights.
Kuenga Dorji said since our textile designs and patterns are an intrinsic part of our rich cultural heritage, this issue has been of growing concern to the department and that they are working towards extending coverage either through the use of existing provisions in our laws or by adapting our IP laws to include protection for such works.
One possible area of such protection could be through the use of Geographical Indications (GIs) for our distinctive patterns such as the Kushuthara and Mathra patterns, which are wellknown as regionally specific in origin. The newer designs and patterns could, perhaps, be registered under the ‘copyrights’.
Meanwhile, such practices have also affected our weavers, who are attempting to develop quality products and develop and sustain markets for them both locally and elsewhere. They now compete against cheap machine-made counterfeits, which some buyers and consumers erroneously assume are more desirable.
Kuenga Dorji said the department is very concerned and is looking at both policy and legal options to study how the values and principles of IP law could be adapted and perhaps even redeployed for new subject matter and for new beneficiaries.
The National Intellectual Property Policy, 2018 requires promotion and protection of TCEs from misappropriation by unauthorized third parties. The policy also requires an increased engagement and participation in various international for developing international instruments for the protection of TCEs.
“The department will also carry out focused awareness raising program and discussions with the relevant agencies in order to work together to set an overall direction for a suitable framework,” Kuenga Dorji said.
The DoIP has also written to a company in France with regard to selling fabric materials of Kushuthara pattern in France without any consent.
The Royal Textile Academy (RTA) also strives to preserve and promote the unique culture and traditions of Bhutan, and weaving being one of them.
RTA officials said they have a weaving school where they welcome students from all backgrounds (both local and international) to learn the art of thagzo; weaving. Besides, it also conducts National Design and Art Competition through which the actual artisans along with the patron/ designers are recognized.
“It is through these endeavors that promotion and preservation of our textiles is highlighted; making people realize how special and valued they are,” RTA officials added.
However, local weavers feel that it will ultimately depend on the customers’ choice because people go for quality and some prefer cheaper prices.
Gagyel Lhendrup Weaving Center said though the Indian made would be cheaper, however, many people prefer only hand woven textiles.
The prices of hand woven textiles range from Nu 10,000 to Nu 100,000 and the machine-made ranges from Nu 3,500 to Nu 7,000.