How to win Champagne – and other regional trade marks

Out-Law News | 10 Jan 2006 | 2:33 pm | 1 min. read

The European Commission has adopted two proposals to clarify and streamline rules for protected geographical indications (PGI), protected designations of origin (PDOs) and “traditional specialities guaranteed” – all types of regional trade mark.

Regional trade marks, such as Champagne, Parma Ham or even Florida Oranges, relate to products that are connected with a particular territory. These are geographical indications that, unlike normal trade marks, are not an exclusive individual right, but are available to any producer in the region concerned. As such, the EU gives them special protection.

There are now 720 regional and speciality products for which denominations are registered under EU quality schemes, and the number continues to grow.

But in 2003, the US and Australia filed separate complaints with the WTO over what they saw as the EU 's discriminatory approach to geographical indications, alleging that the EU does not allow the geographical indications of other WTO members to be registered and protected in the EU unless that other member provides the same protections as the EU.

The WTO panel issued its final report into the matter in March last year, upholding the EU system of geographical indications, but extending its rights to non-EU states. The EU has until April 2006 to implement the ruling.

The draft regulations put forward by the Commission last week are intended to fulfil this obligation: by removing the requirement for “reciprocity and equivalence” from existing rules and by allowing third country operators to submit applications and objections directly, rather than through their governments.

But the proposed regulations will also simplify procedures and clarify the role of Member States in granting regional trade marks.

According to the Commission, the centrepiece of the draft rules is the creation of a well-defined “single document” for applications containing all the necessary information for registration, information and inspection purposes. This will be published, says the Commission.

The proposals also seek to boost the image of labels and the use of EU logos with a view to increasing consumer recognition.

“The Commission intends to implement a more efficient and fully WTO-compatible registration procedure for special products of this type,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “The system is a cornerstone of the EU’s quality policy and our drive to improve the protection of geographical indications internationally.”