World Intellectual Property Organization

About Geographical Indications

What is a geographical indication?

A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes 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 factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign is recognized as a geographical indication is a matter of national law. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of products, whether natural, agricultural or manufactured.

An appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication. It generally consists of a geographical name or a traditional designation used on products which have a specific quality or characteristics that are essentially due to the geographical environment in which they are produced.  The concept of a geographical indication encompasses appellations of origin.

Can geographical indications only be used for agricultural products?

The use of geographical indications is not limited to agricultural products. They may also highlight qualities of a product which are due to human factors associated with the place of origin of the products, such as specific manufacturing skills and traditions. That place of origin may be a village or town, a region or a country. For example, “Bohemia” is recognized as a geographical indication in many countries for specific products made in the Czech Republic, in particular crystal ware.

What does a geographical indication do?

A geographical indication points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product which originates from that place. It is important that the product derives its qualities and reputation from that place. Since those qualities depend on the place of production, a specific "link" exists between the products and their original place of production.

Why do geographical indications need protection?

Geographical indications are understood by consumers to denote the origin and the quality of products. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operators. False use of geographical indications by unauthorized parties is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers. Consumers are deceived into believing that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, when they are in fact getting an imitation. Legitimate producers are deprived of valuable business and the established reputation of their products is damaged.

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

A trademark is a sign used by an enterprise to distinguish its goods and services from those of other enterprises. It gives its owner the right to exclude others from using the trademark. A trademark will often consist of a fanciful or arbitrary name or device. A geographical indication tells consumers that a product is 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 their products in the place designated by a geographical indication and whose products share specified qualities. Unlike a trademark, the name used as a geographical indication will usually be predetermined by the name of the place of production.

How are geographical indications protected?

Geographical indications are protected in accordance with international treaties and national laws under a wide range of concepts, including –

  • special laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin
  • trademark laws in the form of collective marks or certification marks
  • laws against unfair competition
  • consumer protection laws, or
  • specific laws or decrees that recognize individual geographical indications.

In essence, unauthorized parties may not use a geographical indication in respect of products that do not originate in the place designated by that indication. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing the unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.

How are geographical indications protected on the international level?

A number of treaties administered by WIPO provide for the protection of geographical indications, most notably the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration. In addition, Articles 22 to 24 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) deal with the international protection of geographical indications within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

What is a "generic" geographical indication?

If a geographical term is used as the common designation of a kind of product, rather than an indication of the place of origin of that product, then the term no longer functions as a geographical indication. Where this has occurred in a certain country, then that country may refuse to recognize or protect that term as a geographical indication.  For example, the term “cologne” now denotes a certain kind of perfumed toilet water, regardless of whether or not it was produced in the region of Cologne.

What is WIPO's role in the protection of geographical indications?

WIPO is in charge of the administration of a number of international agreements which deal partly or entirely with the protection of geographical indications (see, in particular, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration). Furthermore, through the work of the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT), made up of representatives of Member States and interested organizations, WIPO explores new ways of enhancing the international protection of geographical indications.

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