The Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration was established in 1958 with the purpose of providing international protection for appellations of origin.  The Agreement sets up an international register and ensures that registered appellations receive the same protection in all member countries as they do in their country of origin. The Lisbon Agreement is administered through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The level of protection for appellations of origin is similar to that required by the TRIPS Agreement for wines and spirits, which does not allow use of the registered mark even with qualifiers such as “kind” or “type” (i.e. required protection even in the absence of consumer confusion). The United States remains a non-party to the Lisbon Agreement.

In May of 2015, a Diplomatic Conference will meet to vote on the proposed revisions.  The main revision proposes the addition of geographical indications to the Agreement, giving geographical indications the same level of protection as appellations of origin.  Opponents, including the United States, fear that expanding the scope of the Agreement to geographical indications will adversely affect global trade.

In February, members of the US Congress sent a letter to Director General Francis Curry, voicing their fears over the proposed changes to the Agreement. Among these concerns is that the expansion of the scope of the agreement would have a significant impact on companies whose business depends on the use of common or generic names or on the integrity of established trademarks. These concerns have been magnified due to the inability of non-Lisbon parties to vote on the revisions at the diplomatic conference in May. In the letter to the Director General, the US Congressmen proposed participation of all WIPO members. Only 28 countries are currently party to the Lisbon Agreement, whereas WIPO has 188 members states. However, the decision to allow only current Lisbon parties to vote still stands.

The concept of expanding protections for geographical indications is certainly not new, and has been discussed at the WTO for a decade. The proposed revisions to the Lisbon Agreement, however, have brought this small treaty to the forefront of the international intellectual property world.

Danielle Dudding

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