New Geographical Indications Act passed by Parliament


The Geographical Indications Act was passed by the Singapore Parliament on April 14 2014. The new act, upon coming into force, will be called the Geographical Indications Act 2014. It will repeal and re-enact with amendments the existing Geographical Indications Act to provide an enhanced level of protection. Corresponding amendments will also be made to the Singapore Trademarks Act. The implementation is linked to the fulfilment of Singapore's obligations under the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA).

Currently, geographical indications (GIs) are protected by the existing Geographical Indications Act, under a two-tiered scheme which is in accordance with the TRIPS standard. Generally, a GI label cannot be used on a product which does not originate from the place indicated by the GI, if this misleads the public as to the product's true geographical origin. In addition, an enhanced level of protection is available for wine and spirits. GI labels cannot be used on such goods even if consumers are not misled as to their true geographical origin. No registration is required for GIs to receive protection under the current act.

The new Geographical Indications Act will introduce the following features into Singapore's GI regime when it comes into force:

1. GI registration system - a new Registry of Geographical Indications will be established. Registration will serve as prima facie evidence of the GI's validity and thus give the holder greater certainty of the protection of the relevant term as a GI.

GI registration is only available for specified categories of goods and products set out in the schedule of the act, which include wines, spirits and beers and selected types of foodstuff, such as meat and meat products, seafood, cheese, fruits and vegetables, confectionary and baked goods.

GI registration will follow the 'first in time, first in right' principle, in order to protect existing rights. A new application may not invalidate a prior conflicting GI or an existing trademark.

The registration process is similar to the trademarks system, and involves the following stages:

(i) application;
(ii) examination; and
(iii) publication.

Once registered, the GI will be protected for a period of 10 years, further renewable for periods of 10 years.

2. Enhanced protection - the new act extends the enhanced level of protection currently available only for wine and spirits to all registered GIs. Registered GI labels cannot be applied on the relevant categories of goods even if consumers are not misled as to the products' true geographical origin.

3. Border enforcement measures - owners of all registered GIs will be able to access enhanced border enforcement measures. They will be able to notify and request the Director-General of Customs to detain suspected infringing goods which are imported into, or exported from, Singapore.

The act will come into force in stages to correspond with the EUSFTA ratification timeline, as follows:

  • The GI Registry will be established only if the EU parliament ratifies the EUSFTA.
  • The enhanced protection for all GI categories will come into force when the benefits of the EUSFTA are provisionally applied both ways.
  • Improved border enforcement measures will be implemented within three years after the EUSFTA comes into force.

Angeline Lee, Baker & McKenzie. Wong & Leow LLC, Singapore

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