What is a geographical indication?

Updated: Dec 27, 2018 wipo.int Print

What is a geographical indication?

A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation due to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication consists of the name of the place of origin of the goods. Agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local geographical factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign functions as a geographical indication is a matter of national law and consumer perception. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, such as, for example, “Tuscany” for olive oil produced in a specific area of Italy, or “Roquefort” for cheese produced in that region of France. The use of geographical indications is not limited to agricultural products. They may also highlight specific qualities of a product that are due to human factors found in the product’s place of origin, such as specific manufacturing skills and traditions. The place of origin may be a village or town, a region or a country. An example of the latter is “Switzerland” or “Swiss”, perceived as a geographical indication in many countries for products made in Switzerland and, in particular, for watches.

What is an appellation of origin?

An appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication used on products that have a specific quality exclusively or essentially due to the geographical environment in which the products are produced. The term geographical indication encompasses appellations of origin. Examples of appellations of origin that are protected in states party to the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration are “Bordeaux” for wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, “Prosciutto di Parma” – or Parma ham – for ham produced in the Parma province of Italy or “Habana” for tobacco grown in the Havana region of Cuba.

What is a “generic” geographical indication?

If the name of a place is used to designate a particular type of product, rather than to indicate its place of origin, the term no longer functions as a geographical indication. For example, “Dijon mustard”, a kind of mustard that originated many years ago in the French town of Dijon, has, over time, come to denote mustard of that kind made in many places. Hence, “Dijon mustard” is now a generic indication and refers to a type of product, rather than a place.

Why do geographical indications need protection?

Geographical indications are understood by consumers to denote the origin and quality of products. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by commercial operators. False use of geographical indications by unauthorized parties, for example “Darjeeling” for tea that was not grown in the tea gardens of Darjeeling, is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers. The former are deceived into believing they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, and the latter are deprived of valuable business and suffer damage to the established reputation of their products.

What is the difference between a geographical indication and a trademark?

A trademark is a sign used by a company to distinguish its goods and services from those produced by others. It gives its owner the right to prevent others from using the trademark. A geographical indication guarantees to consumers that a product was produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. It may be used by all producers who make products that share certain qualities in the place designated by a geographical indication.

How are geographical indications protected?

Geographical indications are protected in accordance with national laws and under a wide range of concepts, such as laws against unfair competition, consumer protection laws, laws for the protection of certification marks or special laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin. In essence, unauthorized parties may not use geographical indications if such use is likely to mislead the public as to the true origin of the product. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.

 

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