Implementing GI regulation comes into force

European Union

A new regulation (1898/2006) that sets out detailed rules of implementation of Council Regulation 510/2006 on geographical indications (GIs) and designations of origin (DOs) was published on December 11 2006.

GIs provide consumers with assurances that the goods to which they apply bear certain characteristics as a result of being produced, processed or prepared in a certain place. The value of such GIs for producers of traditional and regional food and drinks may be substantial.

Since 1992 the European Union has employed a system for the protection of GIs and places of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs. The original regulation (2081/92) was replaced in March 2006 by Council Regulation 510/2006, which carries on the main part of the existing rules, but was prepared with a view to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The rules were prepared with a view:

  • to protect product names from misuse and imitation;

  • to protect product quality; and

  • to help consumers by giving them information concerning the specific character of the products.

Despite these general purposes, the major financial impact of Council Regulation 510/2006 cannot be underestimated since only producers from the relevant geographical areas are able to use a name once it is registered (see below).

The regulation distinguishes between two categories of protected names:

  • protected DOs (PDOs), which describe foodstuff that are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area (eg, Parma ham); and

  • protected GIs (PGIs), for which at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation must have a link to the area (eg, Bayonne ham).

Most agricultural products and foodstuff meant for human consumption may be protected. The limitations appear in Appendix I of the EU Treaty and Appendices I and II to Council Regulation 510/2006.

To obtain protection, an application to register the name of a geographical area must be filed, including a technical specification of the product that is to bear the name, to the appropriate authorities in the member state in which the area is located. Thus, to be eligible for a PDO, an agricultural product or foodstuff shall comply with a product specification (Article 4 of the regulation).

Applications may be submitted by groups of producers (eg, milk producers) (Article 5). Applications for either PDOs or PGIs may also be filed by individuals if:

  • the person concerned is the only producer in the defined geographical area willing to file an application; and

  • the defined geographical area possesses characteristics which differ appreciably from those of neighbouring areas or the characteristics of the product are different from those produced in neighbouring areas.

Generic terms (ie, common names of agricultural products or foodstuff that relate to the place or region where the products or foodstuff were originally produced or marketed) are expressly excluded from registration by Article 3.

Registration provides for protection against imitations throughout the European Union. Thus, only agricultural products or foodstuff deriving from the area in question and which have been produced according to certain specifications set out by the applicant may carry the indication in question when marketed within the European Union. The use of the indication, including translations and words such as 'type' or 'kind', is prohibited on products as well as in any other context that may mislead consumers. It is also prohibited to use the indication even if it is clearly stated that the production took place somewhere else.

Only products that are registered will be eligible to be labelled as being PGOs or PGIs, and use the corresponding symbol. It should be noted that producers that are not part of the original applicant group may use the registered name if they can show that their product conforms fully to the registered specification.

To find out which product names are registered, reference should be made to the European Commission - food quality internet site, which also contains more information on the subject:

Finally, it should be noted that the European Court of Human Rights decided on January 11 2007 that there is no carte blanche to extend the limitations for protection under the two geographical designations mentioned above. It established that trademarks and trademark applications are protected against unlawful expropriation. Thus, food names registered on the list of protected foodstuff may not infringe a third party's filed or registered trademark. Such filing or registration must be respected.

Lasse A Søndergaard Christensen and Christian Fleischer Christiansen, Gorrissen Federspiel Kierkegaard, Aarhus

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