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November 15, 2015 Vol. 20 No. 70 Back to Bulletin Main Page

EUROPEAN UNION: European Parliament Supports Non-Agricultural GIs

In the EU, geographic indications (GIs) are protected for certain agricultural products, foods, wines and spirits. A Europe-wide system of regulations has evolved since the 1970s, ensuring that products labeled as mozzarella cheese, prosciutto di Parma, Champagne and grappa are made by certified producers in a particular geographic location or by those using defined methodology and recipes. The GI system exists alongside protection for trademarks.

The EU has not yet harmonized a system for protecting GIs for non-agricultural products. Those offering Murano glass or Aran sweaters must rely on other legal instruments, such as trademarks, laws on unfair competition and consumer deception, or national or regional GIs—an option available in about half the EU countries.

Recently, the idea of a European system for non-agricultural GIs has been gaining momentum, and the European Commission has been studying the matter. On October 6, 2015, the European Parliament adopted a nonlegislative Resolution on the possible extension of GI protection of the EU to non-agricultural products (2015/2053(INI) (the Resolution). The Resolution was adopted by 608 votes to 43, with 43 abstentions.

The Resolution comes out strongly in favor of such a system, arguing that it would lead to increased trade in traditional products, better information for consumers, fewer counterfeits, stimulation of technological and economic development of the regions, greater attractiveness of heritage-related professions and protection for traditions and cultural heritage. Finally, extending GI protection to non-agricultural goods would improve trade negotiations with third countries, many of which already have such GI systems.

The Resolution proposes that the non-agricultural GI system should be modeled closely on the EU system for GIs for agricultural/food products, and that oversight of both systems should be entrusted to the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM).

The Resolution outlines specifics of a proposed system: Generic names should be excluded. There should be a compulsory, fee-based registration procedure and GI applicants should be producers and chambers of commerce. The specification for a GI must describe the raw materials, production process, clear link to the territory and “elements of corporate social responsibility.” GIs should be available in a public registry. Quality checks should be ongoing. Finally, there should be a procedure for contesting GI registrations. The European Commission will now be drafting a legislative proposal.

INTA is hosting a very timely Geographical Names Conference in Rome, Italy, on December 10-11, 2015.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

© 2015 International Trademark Association