For our inaugural issue, and because it’s harvest time in California where we are located, we’ll devote space to a little understood form of intellectual property protection called geographical indicators or GIs that are about to become headline news. In the U.S., GIs can be protected as certification marks or perhaps collective marks through registration at the USPTO and some trademarks may incorporate geographic terms.  But other countries and the European Union have more elaborate sui generis systems for protecting and registering GIs; some treaties also protect GIs. This difference in approach and attitude is fueling tensions in several international arenas that have direct effects on producers in California and other states, and policymakers in Washington, D.C.

WIPO and Free Trade Agreements

Developments at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva about Geographical Indicators (GIs) and new Free Trade Agreements (FTA) negotiated by the European Union (EU) with Canada, Japan and China in recent months will have direct bearing on the worldwide marketability of dairy and viticulture products, not only those originating in the U.S., but also those from other large exporting countries like Argentina and Australia. http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/04/news/economy/japan-eu-trade-deal-summit/index.html The EU FTA negotiations with the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay began in early October in Buenos Aires and will continue through the end of this year. It’s likely the EU will seek to extend within the Mercosur countries the same protections it achieved for its list of GIs agreed earlier with Canada, Japan and China. Old World and New World norms in food culture are clashing, and the talks are peppered with old-fashioned trade policy maneuvers.

Your Feta or Greek Feta

The push for expanded GI protections has now reached international proportions. It affects the bottom line of US and other New World producers who argue that many Old-World designations for cheese in particular have become mere common names or generic terms for food items in North and South America and Asia and are no longer deserving of special protection. At stake is the use of such terms as Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola or Fontina, among others, to label cheeses that move in the global marketplace. In this two-part article, we’ll look at the essential vocabulary for understanding this form of intellectual property protection and analyze the regulations and policy issues at play that may affect clients in these important industries.

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