What is a geographical indication?
A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
A geographical indication right enables those who have the right to use the indication to prevent its use by a third party whose product does not conform to the applicable standards. For example, in the jurisdictions in which the Darjeeling geographical indication is protected, producers of Darjeeling tea can exclude use of the term “Darjeeling” for tea not grown in their tea gardens or not produced according to the standards set out in the code of practice for the geographical indication.
However, a protected geographical indication does not enable the holder to prevent someone from making a product using the same techniques as those set out in the standards for that indication. Protection for a geographical indication is usually obtained by acquiring a right over the sign that constitutes the indication.
Geographical indications are typically used for agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirit drinks, handicrafts, and industrial products.
There are three main ways to protect a geographical indication:
- so-called sui generis systems (i.e. special regimes of protection);
- using collective or certification marks; and
- methods focusing on business practices, including administrative product approval schemes.
These approaches involve differences with respect to important questions, such as the conditions for protection or the scope of protection. On the other hand, two of the modes of protection — namely sui generis systems and collective or certification mark systems — share some common features, such as the fact that they set up rights for collective use by those who comply with defined standards.
Broadly speaking geographical indications are protected in different countries and regional systems through a wide variety of approaches and often using a combination of two or more of the approaches outlined above. These approaches have been developed in accordance with different legal traditions and within a framework of individual historical and economic conditions.
From Switzerland’s Gruyère cheese to Mexico’s Tequila, geographical indications and appellations of origin are a common feature of everyday life. They not only provide a way for business to leverage the value of their geographically unique products, but also inform and attract consumers. Read more in "Geographical Indications - An Introduction"
The unique blue cheese from France is aged in natural caves around the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon region and protected using geographical indications.
Geographical indications help the ancient Georgian wine industry to unlock its potential.
A number of international treaties deal partly or entirely with the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin. Below are links to relevant treaties administered by WIPO, as well as to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Relevant treaties administered by WIPO
The WIPO Lex database is a comprehensive search tool that allows you to search national laws and international treaties on intellectual property.
The Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT) is the forum where WIPO's member states discuss policy and legal issues relating to the international development of law and standards for geographical indications and appellations of origin.
The Lisbon System provides a means of obtaining protection for appellations of origin in several countries. This can be done by filing one application with the International Bureau of WIPO, in one language, with one set of fees in one currency.
A Diplomatic Conference for the Adoption of a New Act of the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration will take place from May 11 to 21, 2015.
The Lisbon Express database is the first step in appellation of origin searches. The database can provide a general overview of international appellations of origin registered with WIPO.
The biennial International Symposium on Geographical Indications (GI) brings together government representatives with producers of GI-registered products, legal and other specialists, for an open exchange of views on various issues related to geographical indications.
It contributes to the ongoing debate at the national and international level. Speakers' presentations contain a wealth of information on the practical use of GIs and appellations of origin in different countries.
Information resources on GIs