Advocates Say Geographical Indications Will Benefit Developing Nations 11/07/2008 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Kaitlin Mara An association of producers of geographical indications – product names associated with a particular place and characteristics – is promoting the idea that extending the high-level protection of geographic indications currently enjoyed by wines and spirits to other goods (called GI extension) is in the interest of developing countries. GI extension is generally thought to be in the interest of the European Communities and Switzerland, who have been its chief promoters at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and whose home-based industries are frequently associated with geographical indications: Swiss chocolate, for instance, or Bordeaux wine. But advocacy association OriGIn, the Organisation for an International Geographical Indications Network, is promoting GI extension as a “tool of sustainable development” capable of protecting traditional knowledge and promoting local community production. “Geographic indications are the best legal tool for the protection” of goods in developing countries, said Luis Fernando Samper, director of intellectual property at the Colombian Coffee Federation and current president of OriGIn. Samper cited an example: the free trade agreement Colombia signed with the United States had a category for “distinctive products,” and the United States wanted Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon protected under this category, he said. Colombia was willing to agree, if the protection was mirrored for their distinctive coffee. But the US said there was no place to handle a non-alcohol distinctive product. It is “unfair that some products have higher protection than others, so we support GI extension,” Samper said. OriGIn also is promoting a stronger version of a GI register, the creation of which is mandated at the WTO and which currently is being worked on in special sessions of the WTO Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). “Protection [of GIs] should be efficient and less costly,” explained Samper, adding that the goal would be made more achievable with an effective registry. Currently, the register is only aimed at wines and spirits, and there has been disagreement as to what would be the legal implications of submitting a GI to the register. OriGIn is hoping to see all GIs put into a database, with “rebuttable presumption” that goods in the database meet the legal definition of a geographical indication and deserve all related protection. The WTO Advantage “We want to create international rules [that are] more effective on [the protection of] GIs,” OriGIn secretary general Massimo Vittori told Intellectual Property Watch. The Geneva-based organisation is interested in promoting the concept of geographical indications and has made a point of reaching out to developing country producers of GI products, boasting a membership list containing several developing nations. The group also was in Washington, DC last week to meet with GI producers and others from the United States. The organisation’s current target is the WTO Doha Round trade negotiators, who they are hoping to influence to achieve a multilateral, uniform and compulsory system of GI protection. The main message here is “the momentum” said Vittori, with over 100 members supporting the notion of modalities on GI issues, in some cases in exchange for consideration of modalities on a biodiversity amendment. “GI [protection measures] are now very uneven,” Samper said. “The WTO fulfils the role of making even rules for everyone.” But he added that the organisation would be willing to look into different mechanisms, such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Madrid System for registration of trademarks, or bilateral negotiations. OriGIn’s concern is less “the colour of the cat” and more “whether he catches the mice,” he explained. Efficiency and legal binding are the chief priorities. Vittori said he hoped to modify the perception of diplomats that GIs are simply protectionist measures, and promote instead the idea that they can produce “good benefits” on biodiversity, or on local handicrafts, or could even be used to prevent biopiracy. The group also is keen that the burden of protection of the brand names is not placed on producers entirely, which is why they advocate “rebuttable presumption” of GI legitimacy. The burden of proof, said Vittori, “is on the person who wants to demonstrate the GI is not a GI.” This does not, he emphasised, interfere with territoriality of laws. Decisions will still be made at national levels. Even Protection = Even Benefits? Not all are convinced that GI extension and a legally binding registry are necessarily development benefits. The GI issues are “not to be confused with developing countries” said Sunjay Sudhir, a counsellor at the permanent mission of India. There are examples of geographic indications in India, he said “but that doesn’t make it a developing country issue.” Some countries, including several developing countries like India, China or Thailand stand to gain a lot, while other countries stand to lose a lot. It’s not a North-South division, but perhaps more of a “new versus old culture” divide. “Just registering [a GI] won’t change anything,” said Santiago Roca, former president of INDECOPI, the Peruvian patent office, and author of a new book on intellectual property and trade in Peru titled “Propiedad intellectual y comercio en el Perú.” What is needed also is investment, he said. If GI extension does go ahead, Roca explained, Peru has a lot of possibilities. But the problem is a great deal of investment is needed to promote a new GI, to export it and to build name recognition outside the country. For small producers this may be very difficult. He cited a situation in which the EU and the US had over 100 geographical trademarks protected in Peru, whereas Peru had only one. One source suggested that the push for geographical indications might be a European strategy to protect as many goods as possible under special “distinctive product” markings, in case they are forced to lower agricultural subsidies as a part of wider negotiations. And while OriGIn’s member list [pdf], organised by nation and product type, contains a large number of developing countries, most developing nations have only one GI producer or association on the list. Spain, by contrast, has 16, France 11, Switzerland 6 and Italy 5. Making generic versions of other countries’ geographical indications is “not a sound development strategy,” said Samper. Looking at development “with a mirror” is ineffective; it will be necessary for developing nations to “sell their own products, and make them world market products.” Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com. William New contributed to this report. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related "Advocates Say Geographical Indications Will Benefit Developing Nations" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.