• Trademarks versus Geographical Indications

    A trademark provides protection to the owner of the mark by ensuring the exclusive right to use it to identify goods or services, or to authorize another to use it in return for payment. The period of protection varies, but a trademark can be renewed indefinitely beyond the initial time limit on payment of additional fees. Trademark protection must be enforced by the registered owners of the mark at their own expense, utilizing appropriate legal redress where necessary. In most legal systems courts have the authority to enforce trademark ownership rights against infringement.

    In a larger sense, trademarks promote initiative and enterprise worldwide by rewarding the owners of trademarks with recognition and financial profit. Trademarks also hinder the efforts of unfair competition. For further details visit www.wipo.org, the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO, Geneva, Switzerland.

    Almost all countries in the world register and protect trademarks by maintaining a register of trademarks. Trademarks may be one or a combination of words, letters and numerals. They may consist of drawings or logos, symbols, three-dimensional signs such as the shape and packaging of goods, etc.

    A geographical indication (GI) provides an indication of where something comes from. It can be used on goods or services that have a specific geographic origin and that possess qualities or a reputation that are intrinsically due to that place of origin. As we know all agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local factors, such as climate and soil but some have acquired a certain distinctiveness and recognition. As such, GIs may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, such as for example ‘Tuscany’ for olive oil produced in a specific area in Italy; or “Champagne” for sparkling wines from a well-defined region in France, or Jamaica Blue Mountain for its coffee.

    A geographic name itself is not necessarily a GI. In order for a geographic name to function as a GI, it must indicate more than just origin; it must communicate that the product from this region has a particular quality or has a particular reputation that is specifically connected to the noted region.

    Appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication. It is used on products that have a specific quality that is exclusively or essentially due to the geographic environment in which the products are produced. The concept of geographical indications encompasses appellations of origin. Wines from France are maybe the products most frequently associated with appellations, e.g. stated as AOC Alsace = Appellation d’Origine Controlée Alsace. This certifies that the wine is from the Alsace region.

    Differences between Trademarks and Geographical Indications

    A trademark is a sign (logo) used by an enterprise to distinguish its goods and services from those of other enterprises. It gives its owner the right to exclude others from using that trademark.

    A geographical indication on the other hand tells consumers that a product is produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. All producers who make their products in the place designated by a geographic indication, and whose products share typical qualities, may use it. Producers outside the geographic indication may not use the name or logo, even if the quality of their product is the same or better. Usually it is more difficult (but not impossible) to register trademarks that lay claim to a geographic name. This because of the realisation that it is not always obvious that an applicant for such a mark can claim to represent all potential interested parties from the region, area or district in question. One way around this could be to obtain officially sanctioned approval for the application from a relevant governmental or semi-governmental body from the target geographic region, area or district. Another approach could be to use a graphic (i.e. decorative) logo that refers to the area, and which would be used by many in that area subject to specified requirements. Rather than a geographic ‘word mark’, the graphic trademark is then filed as a collective mark for goods produced from that area, by members of the area.

    For a complete overview on the subject of Geographical Indications, including actual case studies, look for ITC’s Guide to Geographical Indications - the book can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format.

    NB: In May 2008 the International Coffee Organization held a Seminar on Geographical Indications for Coffee where a number of presentations were made. These can be viewed at http://dev.ico.org/event_pdfs/gi/gi.htm. Three of these presentations dealt with Issues of labelling, traceability and certification - the links are shown below and were operative as of March 2011:

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