Making the most of Europe's traditional know-how: Commission launches public consultation on the protection of geographical indications for non-agricultural products
The European Commission has today launched a Green Paper consultation on a possible extension of geographical indication protection to non-agricultural products.
In today’s globalised world, consumers are looking for ways to identify authentic, original products, and expect that the quality and specific features advertised actually correspond to reality.
A geographical indication (GI) identifies goods as originating from a country, region or locality where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is linked to its geographical origin, for example Bordeaux wine, Murano glass or Parma ham. Agricultural products (e.g. cheeses, wines, meats, fruits and vegetables) from a specific geographical origin possessing certain qualities or made according to traditional methods may be afforded EU-wide GI protection (e.g. Parmesan cheese). However, non-agricultural products (e.g. ceramics, marble, cutlery, shoes, tapestries, musical instruments) do not to date enjoy unitary GI protection at EU level beyond national laws.
Commission Vice-President for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier said: "The European Union is rich in products based on traditional knowledge and production methods, which are often rooted in the cultural and social heritage of a particular geographical location, from Bohemian crystal and Scottish tartans to Carrara marble to Tapisserie d’Aubusson. These products form not only part of Europe’s knowledge and skills, but they also have a considerable economic potential, which we may not be exploiting fully. Extending EU-wide GI protection to such products might bring considerable potential benefits to SMEs and European regions. This could help preserve our unique and diverse heritage, whilst making a significant contribution to European jobs and growth.”
The Green Paper consists of two parts. The first part asks about the current means of protection provided at national and EU level and the potential economic, social and cultural benefits that could be achieved by improved GI protection in the EU. The second part includes more technical questions to seek the views of interested parties on possible options for EU-level GI protection for non-agricultural products. The possible objectives for any new measures range from fulfilling the minimum requirements on GI protection set up by the Agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) to providing additional criteria for protection like those included in EU legislation on agricultural GIs.
All interested stakeholders – from consumers to producers, and distributors to local authorities – are invited to send their comments and suggestions by 28 October 2014. The Commission will publish the outcome of the consultation and will take it into account when considering if further action is appropriate at EU level.
The EU is bound by rules on protecting GIs under TRIPS, which applies to all 159 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and covers both agricultural and non-agricultural products. In all WTO member countries, GIs have to be protected to avoid misleading the public as to the origin of goods and to prevent unfair competition. WTO members are allowed to use different legal instruments to achieve this. Some WTO members, including 14 EU Member States, have specific legislation on GI protection for non-agricultural products.
At EU level, unitary GI protection is currently provided for wines, spirit drinks, aromatised wines and for agricultural products and foodstuffs. However, to date there is no harmonisation or unitary GI protection for non-agricultural products at EU level. Instead, national legal instruments apply, resulting in varying levels of legal protection across Europe. Non-agricultural producers who wish to protect a GI in the EU need to file for protection in each Member State where this is available, which is not effective in the EU Single Market, or rely on litigation in case of abuse.
The Commission identified the issue in its 2011 Communication: "A single market for intellectual property rights" and proposed a thorough analysis of the existing legal framework for GI protection of non-agricultural products in the Member States, and its implications for the single market.
An external Study on geographical indications protection for non-agricultural products in the Internal Market was commissioned in 2012. Its results, published in March 2013, show that the existing legal instruments available to producers at national and European level are insufficient. The Commission also organised a public hearing on 22 April 2013 to discuss the results of the study and to provide a platform for a wide debate on the need for more efficient GI protection of non-agricultural products at EU level.