With WTO Stalled, GI Industry Proponents Move To Create Their Own Register

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An international private-sector network lobbying for the protection of geographical indications is set to establish a compilation of all GIs currently protected in the world in what could seem like a response to the repeated failure of governments to agree on the establishment of a GIs register at the World Trade Organization. The Organization for an International Geographical Indications Network (OriGIn), meeting for its fifth General Assembly, also voiced concerns about the lack of protection of GIs in cyberspace.

OriGIn’s members, who met in Guadalajara, Mexico on 29 September for the General Assembly, adopted a “Declaration of Guadalajara” drafting a biennium strategy to promote global GI protection. According to a press release, [pdf] 200 representatives of GI producers from 35 countries from around the world gathered for the occasion.

The declaration [pdf] calls for a compilation of all GIs currently protected in the world. “Such a compilation will represent an invaluable source of information for producers, consumers, academic research, trademark offices and public authorities in charge of GIs around the world,” it says.

Efforts to create an international register of geographical indications have been going on for years at the WTO without much progress. Member countries are traditionally divided on the subject with strong proponents of GIs, such as the European Union countries with a long history of GI protection, and countries reluctant to institute international binding rules on GI registration, such as the United States and Australia.

Geographical indications are place names that are used to identify products with characteristics from those particular places, like Champagne or Tequila.

GIs are protected under Article 22 of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Wines and spirits enjoy a higher level of protection as specified in TRIPS Article 23. Article 23.4 says that negotiations should be undertaken for the establishment of a multilateral system of notification and registration of wines and spirits. Those negotiations are carried out in TRIPS special sessions, and under the WTO Doha Declaration mandate. There is also a question about extending the higher level of protection to all other GIs.

Under a strong push by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy started in November 2010 to complete the Doha Round by the end of 2011, WTO members, meeting in small drafting group of governments, arduously produced a “composite text” see IP Register for geographical indications pulling together different earlier proposals.

The heavily bracketed composite text and the latest TRIPS special session seem to indicate that countries mainly kept old positions and the April 2011 meeting even showed a weakening of the so-called W/52 group gathering some 109 WTO members in favor of starting negotiations based on proposals for a binding international register, extending higher-level GI protection to other products, and requiring disclosure of the origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge in patent applications (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 21 April 2011).

According to Massimo Vittori, OriGIn’s managing director, the compilation should be available publicly in time for OriGIn’s next General Assembly in 2013. The compilation will be useful for trademark offices around the world, he told Intellectual Property Watch.

Lack of GI Protection in Cyberspace, Voluntary Standards

The OriGIn Guadalajara Declaration also voices concern about the “unfair use of GIs on the internet, such as the case of GIs used by illegitimate parties in generic top-level domains.”

“We regret to note that the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) – first adopted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in August 1999 – has failed to evolve and take into account the new scenarios in cyberspace,” it said. The declaration also noted that the ICANN rules concerning the cybersquatting cases were limited to trademarks, and did not cover GIs.

“We call upon the ICANN and the World Intellectual Property Organization to put an end to such unreasonable discrimination,” the declaration said.

OriGIn also warned about “voluntary standards,” which they say display information about product quality and are “proliferating in international trade” and which may not fit producers’ interests. The group called for more involvement of “legitimate producers” organisations in the elaboration of voluntary standards. They also called for a better coordination between public authorities and “other interested stakeholders in order to promote a coherent international approach to this issue and facilitate the regular flow of information to producers and consumers.” The process of the establishment of voluntary standards should be more inclusive and have a more systemic approach, Vittori told Intellectual Property Watch.

Separately, OriGIn President Ramón Gonzalez Figueroa, director general of the Consejo Regulador del Tequila in Mexico, was re-elected for a second term.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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