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January 15, 2016 Vol. 71 No. 1 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Sleeping Beauty Awakens: A Report from INTA’s Geographical Names Conference


As Italy is home to approximately one third of all European geographical indications (GIs) registered for wines and spirits, and around one fifth of those registered for agricultural products and foodstuffs, Rome was a fitting location for INTA’s “Geographical Names Conference,” which was held December 10 and 11, 2015.

During his welcome address at the event, INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo noted that this marked the Association’s first conference dealing specifically with geographical indications. He added that the conference coincided with the launch of the International Guide to Geographical Indications, Certification Marks and Collective Marks, which is now available in the Member Resources section of the INTA website.

The roughly 180 registrants who gathered in Rome demonstrated that the topic of GIs—which Professor Anselm Kamperman Sanders (Maastricht University, Netherlands) noted might not have been well received as the subject of an INTA conference just a couple of years ago—was now very well capable of drawing a crowd.

The rising interest in GIs as the “Sleeping Beauty”—a term first used in reference to GIs by Florent Gevers during a 1995 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) symposium and revisited by panelist Marcus Höpperger of WIPO at the INTA Geographical Names Conference—can be attributed to recent political debate, as well as legislative activities on the issue.

During the last two years, the EU successfully advanced the protection of GIs through bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the ones concluded with Korea and Singapore and the yet to be ratified Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

In the current U.S.-EU negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement, GIs are proving a stumbling block due to discrepancies between the EU’s sui generis system on one side and the U.S. (primary) system of GI protection through collective marks and/or certification marks on the other.

Developments on the legislative front include the adoption of the Geneva Act on the Lisbon Agreement (allowing for the international registration of GIs and permitting the accession of certain intergovernmental organizations) during a Diplomatic Conference in May; the resolution by the EU parliament calling for the establishment of a European system for the protection of GIs for non-agricultural products, passed in October; as well as the EU trademark reform package, endorsed by the EU parliament in December, which will grant wider ex officio protection to GIs, make it mandatory for the Member States to include GIs as a basis for opposition procedures and also introduce certification marks to the European trademark system.

The conference dealt with the above-mentioned topics and more. Conference co-chairs Keri Johnston (Johnston Law, Canada) and Lorenzo Litta (De Simone & Partners, Italy) did a tremendous job in assembling an extremely varied group of speakers that included not only GI holders, trademark owners and lawyers acting on their respective behalves, but also voices from academia, politicians, consultants and representatives of international organizations (such as the World Trade Organization and WIPO) and national trademark offices (the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) and the Mexican Industrial Property Office (IMPI)).

The presentations by GI holders made the event especially memorable, as they each demonstrated a true passion for their products and the regions they represented, and effectively conveyed this to the registrants. One could almost taste the prosciutto di Parma and the Cognac during the presentations of Simone Calzi (Consorzio des Prosciutto di Parma, Italy) and Lionel Lalagüe (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, France) and feel the centuries of tradition behind these products. Mr. Lalagüe pointed out that GIs “could not be created but only recognized.” The stirring speech of Fatima Amehri (Association Marocaine de l’Indication Géographique de l’Huile d’Argane, Marocco) vividly illustrated the traditional Argan oil extraction process, while her explanations of how the preservation of these traditions helps to empower women in the region provided registrants with a clear sense of the socioeconomic function that GIs are capable of fulfilling.

While there were some rather heated exchanges between trademark owners and GI holders, the general consensus was that the potential for conflict was not that severe. Quite to the contrary, there is much to be gained from a collaborative approach, such as co-branding efforts between GI holders and trademark owners or the promotion of products relying on both trademark and GI protection at the same time. The differences between the sui generis protection of GIs and their protection through the trademark system did not seem insurmountable either, and a number of speakers noted that parties (such as emerging economies) which need to cater to the (more entrenched) interests of the big players on both sides of the discussion might be able to adopt a pragmatic view and develop a “dynamic third way” to bridge the current divide.

During a “speed interview” with Mr. Sanz de Acedo and OriGin’s Managing Director, Massimo Vittori, Mr. Sanz de Acedo pointed to the potential for the two organizations to complement one another. He remarked that INTA, in its continued global as well as substantive expansion, and its ongoing effort to look at a wider range of issues relevant to trademarks, would certainly like to become more involved with GIs.

The audience was as diverse as the speakers and ranged from those—like Stefanos Tsimikalis (Tsimikalis Kalonarou Law Firm) and Iana Roueva Madey (Madara Law)—who attended out of general interest in the topic but with no practical experience in working with GIs, to those who—like Andrea Ringle (BRL, Germany) and Francesca Guidetti (Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, Italy)—are involved with GIs on a regular basis.

Ms. Ringle said the event was a “very carefully prepared conference that gave a good overview of all the important issues.” Ms. Guidetti noted that her high expectations had been fulfilled and that “every single detail was very on point.” Angela Di Blasio (Bugnion S.p.A., Italy) and Beata Wojtkowska (Kulikowska & Kulikowski, Poland) both lauded the structure and the high practical value of the presentations. Vikrant Rana (S.S. Rana & Co., India), whose firm is involved with the protection of the Indian GI “Kansi Grass,” remarked on the value of “knowing what is happening around the world” and said that the conference had certainly offered a lot of ideas to take home, particularly with respect to the monetization of GIs. Giovanni Orsoni (De Simoni & Partners, Italy) stated that, although he was quite involved with GIs in the wine sector, he had been surprised to learn how diverse the topic had become, especially in Asia. He commented that the issue would continue to gain importance over the coming years, an opinion that was seconded by Tim Lince (Globe Business Media Group, Australia), who noted that this conference had made him realize that GIs should be given even greater attention and coverage than he had previously thought.

While next year’s European conference (scheduled to be held in Brussels, Belgium) will turn its focus to the “Digital Agenda,” it seems clear that Sleeping Beauty has awoken and that we will continue to see and hear more of her in the years to come.

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.

© 2016 International Trademark Association