A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a 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. For example, agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local factors, such as climate and soil.
Geographical indications are more than just a name or a symbol. They reflect a reputation strongly linked to geographical areas of varying sizes, thus giving them an emotional component. A geographical indication’s reputation is a collective, intangible asset. If not protected, it could be used without restriction and its value diminished and eventually lost.
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.
Appellations of origin and GIs both require a qualitative link between the product to which they refer and its place of origin. Both inform consumers about a product’s geographical origin and a quality or characteristic of the product linked to its place of origin. The basic difference between the two terms is that the link with the place of origin must be stronger in the case of an appellation of origin.
The quality or characteristics of a product protected as an appellation of origin must result exclusively or essentially from its geographical origin. This generally means that the raw materials should be sourced in the place of origin and that the processing of the product should also happen there. In the case of GIs, a single criterion attributable to geographical origin is sufficient, be it a quality or other characteristic of the product, or only its reputation. Moreover, the production of the raw materials and the development or processing of a GI product do not necessarily take place entirely in the defined geographical area.
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.