On 6th October 2015 the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution (see provisional edition, which is the only one available so far) on the possible extension of geographical indication protection in the European Union to non-agricultural products (2015/2053(INI), and instructed its President to forward it to the Council and the Commission to propose a legislative proposal with the aim of establishing a single European system of protection for geographical indications for non-agricultural products.
The resolution is in line with the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) and the opinions of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and the Committee on International Trade, among others.
Those who attended the workshop organised by the GI Team during the Annual Conference held in September in Vienna already had the opportunity to learn both of the content of the JURI report, which had just been voted and approved two days before the workshop and whose content is basically contained in the now adopted resolution, and of the coming plenary sitting of the EP to discuss the matter.
An incentive to preserve cultural heritage
The EP recalls that non-agricultural products are an integral part of the EU identity and that the GI protection of non-agricultural products could function as an incentive to preserve the cultural heritage and traditional know-how of the Member States and an instrument to fight the extinction of traditional skills and crafts and to guarantee fair remuneration for producers and the originality and widest possible availability of these products.
It also considers that it can have great economic potential, and can bring significant benefits, especially for SMEs and EU regions and help stamp out counterfeiting, avoid unfair competition, and prevent consumers from being deceived.
As to the justification for the creation of a system of protection at the EU level, it argues that the national laws currently protecting non-agricultural products give rise to different degrees of protection in Member States, which is not in conformity with the aims of the internal market, and is causing difficulties for their effective protection in Europe and in Member States where they are not covered by national legislation, and that harmonised European legislation could only benefit the EU in international trade negotiations.
Uniform protection at EU level could foster innovation in traditional production processes and the creation of new start-ups for traditional products, contribute to the sustainability of jobs created in poorly developed areas and help to effectively combat counterfeiting, fraudulent use of names of geographical origin, and other unfair practices. A well-known GI could help to better promote the European cultural itineraries too.
The EP considers that said system would be beneficial in the relations with third countries, as it would be an advantage in negotiating trade agreements with third countries, as non-agricultural GIs are of special relevance there.
As to general principles, the system must be an EU-level system, which is coherent, simple and transparent and is not bureaucratically and financially burdensome, based on best practices, transparent and non-discriminatory principles, and aimed at sustainability, environmentally friendly and compatible with the development of technology.
The single EU-level protection of non-agricultural GIs should include common definitions, registration procedures and costs, the scope of protection and the means of enforcement, and the establishment of a trustworthy authority responsible for deciding on the granting of non-agricultural GI status, recognised at the EU level. It proposes that the system be managed by the OHIM (which, as the EP suggests, could also take care of the already existing system for agricultural products).
Scope of protection
Concerning the scope of protection, it favours a broad definition and considers that it should enable the inclusion of non-geographical names which are unambiguously associated with a given place and even include non-verbal signs and symbols that are unmistakably associated with a particular region - this is in line with the trend to broaden the concept of GIs in practice - and maintains that the label/distinguishing sign/mark/logo for non-agricultural GIs should be simple and easily recognisable and reflect the regional/local identity of the goods, while some indications, for instance generic terms or homonyms, have to be excluded from GI protection.
It proposes that the reinforced protection provided for in Article 23 of the TRIPS Agreement for wines and spirits is applied.
The EP believes that there should be a single standardised and public European register and a compulsory registration process in two stages: first, on-the-spot checks by national or regional authorities to ascertain that specific characteristics are not being interfered with; and second, a single European registration system to ensure compliance with common criteria in all parts of the EU and be simple, useful and accessible and to ensure that it provides affordable, clear and transparent registration, modification and cancellation procedures in which the financial and administrative burden for stakeholders is minimised.
The procedure should be open to interested parties who can contest the registration of GIs.
The EP emphasises the need to ensure that GIs are equally well protected in the digital marketplace and stresses the relevance of control measures as quality checks, having in mind the significant differences existing between agricultural and non-agricultural products (e.g. number of producers) and advocates that an inspection, infringement and penalty scheme be set up to monitor GIs on products marketed in Europe. It also points to the need for regular checks to be carried out once geographical indication status has been granted.
Regarding coexistence with prior rights, the EU considers that any future GIs must be allowed to coexist with rights already associated with the product and that the relationship between trade marks and GIs will need to be clearly defined and that the rules on the relationship between trade marks and GIs should apply to the GI protection of non-agricultural products.
As to the current national systems, it proposes that transitional arrangements be applied, providing for a coexistence of the national and the EU systems before moving towards an EU mechanism.
The MARQUES GI Team will follow up and report on new relevant developments as they occur.
Miguel Angel Medina is a partner of Elzaburu in Madrid and a member of the GI Team