Are you sure that the fancy cheese you bought is actually a product of France? Or how about that tasty prosciutto you paid top dollar for? Did it really come from Italy? Geographical indications, aside from denoting trademark information, help us determine whether we’re willing to pay more for a certain quality product. Unfortunately for consumers, these indications are not consistent throughout the world. Consumers in one part of the world may be paying for a product that advertises a false or misleading origin, but charges a price that denotes the quality associated with that region. This brilliant marketing strategy benefits the product manufacturers, but sacrifices the trust of consumers. After all, would you pay top dollar for American-made “parmesan” cheese or would you want to be sure that it came from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy?

Be sure not to miss the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law‘s upcoming article, Terroir vs. Trademarks: The Debate Over Geographical Indications and Expansions to the TRIPS Agreement, in the Winter 2009 issue.

Abstract:

The ever expanding global marketplace and increasing sophistication of consumers has led to a heightened desire for high-quality wines, spirits and food products that derive their unique characteristics from the geographical region from which they originate. The particular geographic identity of a product, known as a “geographical indication” can increase the marketability and value of any number of consumer goods, from wines and spirits to rice and cheese. The desire to protect geographical indications from misappropriation and abuse eventually led to the adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects for Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) during the establishment of the World Trade Organization. This agreement provides for the international protection of geographical indications and offers more protection for wines and spirits than other consumer goods. Unfortunately, the adoption of the TRIPS Agreement did not end controversy over geographical indications and a debate between the European Union and the United States and their respective allies still rages over how international law should be applied to protect geographical indications.

This Note first analyzes the history of the geographical indication debate and the protection of geographical indications within international intellectual-property treaties, including relevant provisions of the TRIPS Agreement. It then considers the policy reasons behind each side of the debate between the European Union and the United States regarding how to proceed with protecting geographical indications in the future. Finally, the Note evaluates and advocates for the expansion of the TRIPS Agreement protection beyond wine and spirits and for the establishment of a mandatory registration system for geographical indications. This proposal would still honor existing trademark systems in order to protect the current interests of the United States.

Note Author: Emily C. Creditt

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