Geographical Indications – A Step Towards Harmonisation

By Nicholas Davies, Trainee Patent Attorney

Geographical indications (GIs) are a type of intellectual property right that provide protection for many well-known goods including foodstuffs, beverages, handicrafts, and industrial products. Geographical indications are indications, such as a sign used on a product, which identify the product as originating from a specific geographical origin, where the product possesses a quality or a reputation due to that origin1. Some well-known examples of European GIs include Stilton cheese, Champagne, and Swiss watches while some well-known examples of Chinese GIs include Pixian Dou Ban, Anji Bai Cha, and Anqiu Da Jiang. GIs can be a powerful tool, which can be used to prevent acts of unfair competition by allowing those that have the right to use a GI to take measures against those using a GI without permission, such as preventing the use of any means in the designation or presentation of a product that indicates or suggests that the product in question originates in a geographical area other than the true place of origin1,2.

On 14 September 2020, the EU and China entered into a bilateral agreement, which is expected to come into force imminently (i.e. at the start of 2021), protecting 100 European GIs in China and 100 Chinese GIs in the EU against imitation and usurpation, the agreement being the first of its kind on this scale3. In recent years, exports of EU goods to China and exports of Chinese goods to the EU have been steadily increasing, with China being the EU’s third-largest export market (€14.5 billion), and China the EU’s fifth largest import market (€5.3 billion), for agricultural goods in 2019, which the bilateral agreement relating to GIs could boost further4.

Looking forward, the agreement contains a provision that will lead to an additional 175 GIs from each of the EU and China being added to the existing GIs covered by the agreement over the next four years, with the possibility of more GIs being added following the end of that period. In terms of enforcement of GIs, GI holders will have the right to request an enforcement action and to seek judicial enforcement independently, with a Joint Committee being tasked with monitoring the implementation of the agreement3.

In summary, the aforementioned trade agreement will likely lead to significant economic and trade benefits to both the EU and China, and will reassure consumers of goods covered by the protected GIs that those goods are indeed authentic. This landmark agreement presents an exciting opportunity for those in the agri-food industry wishing to expand into the European or Chinese markets respectively.

References

[1] Frequently Asked Questions: Geographical Indications (wipo.int)

[2] WTO | intellectual property (TRIPS) – agreement text – standards

[3] EU-China geographical indications agreement (europa.eu)

[4] EU-China deal on geographical indications “historic” – Paris – France in the United Kingdom – La France au Royaume-Uni (ambafrance.org)