Department of Intellectual Property registers two new GIs - but these remain an underutilised tool

Thailand

On September 30 2015 the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) accepted the registration of 'Phuket pearl' - a fine-quality pearl from a geographical area dubbed 'The Pearl of Andaman' - as a geographical indication (GI). On the same day, 'Chiang Rai tea' - an aromatic tea from the northernmost region of Thailand - was also registered.

A GI is used to indicate the specific, distinguishable or marketable qualities of products possessing such qualities and reputation due to a clear association with a particular geographical origin. In some instances, a product possesses its qualities and reputation essentially due to its place of origin, but these may also derive from specific traditions, agricultural practices or local values and wisdom which are unique to that place of production. Accordingly, GIs can be applied to agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirits, handicraft and industrial products.

Thailand implemented its GI protection system in 2003 under the Geographical Indications Protection Act BE 2546 (2003). After over 10 years, the DIP has received only 91 applications, of which 74 have been registered. Among the 74 registered GIs, 63 were filed by Thai applicants, while 11 were filed by foreign applicants.

The majority of applications related to local agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirits, and handicrafts such as silk and pottery. Well-known local registered GIs are, for example, 'Doi Chang coffee', 'Doi Tung coffee', 'Thung Kula Rong Hai jasmine rice', 'Trang roasted pork', 'Sri Racha pineapple' and 'Koh Kred pottery'. The most recent GIs are now 'Phuket Pearl' and 'Chiang Rai Tea'. Foreign GIs registered in Thailand include 'Pisco' (Peru), 'Champagne' (France), 'Cognac' (France), 'Brunello Di Montalcino' (Italy), 'prosciutto Di Parma' (Italy), 'Scotch whisky' (Scotland), 'Napa Valley' (USA) and 'Tequila '(Mexico).

Thai GI products which have been registered overseas include 'Thung Kula Rong Hai jasmine rice', 'Doi Chang coffee' and 'Doi Tung coffee', which all have been registered in the European Union.

Based on the statistics, apart from the first year of implementation of GI protection, during which only two applications were received, the DIP has received, on average, about 10-14 applications per year. Considering that the system was implemented over a decade ago, this number is relatively low in comparison to the number of applications for registration of other IP rights received by the DIP annually. In this regard, the government, including the DIP and other relevant state agencies, may need to do more to promote the registration of GIs and provide the mechanisms to support new registrations, as well as enhancing the exposure of GI products overseas.

GIs and appellations of origin are becoming more common in consumers' everyday life. GIs are a very useful marketing tool to convey a sense of quality or uniqueness as an added value, which helps to attract consumers' attention and boost the sales and market prices of the products and other associated businesses – such as the tourism industry. Accordingly, GIs can be regarded as an essential strategic tool to improve the livelihood of the community, and to promote and maintain the traditions and specific qualities for which the product is recognised.

Nuttaphol Arammuang and Prateep Naboriboon, ZICOlaw (Thailand) Ltd, Bangkok

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