Geographical Indications and Protection against Unfair Competition

Agricultural products typically have qualities deriving from their place of production and that are influenced by specific local factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign functions as an indication is a matter of national law and consumer perception. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, such as “Tuscany” for olive oil produced in a specific area of Italy, or “Roquefort” for cheese produced in a certain region of France.

The use of geographical indications is not limited to agricultural products. They may also highlight particular qualities of a products that are due to human factors found in the product’s place of origin, such as specific manufacturing skills and traditions. That place of origin may be a village or town, a region or a country. An example of a country geographical indication is “Switzerland” or “Swiss” for products made in Switzerland, in particular watches.

An appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication used on products that gave a specific quality exclusively or essentially due to the geographical environment in which the products are produced. The term georgraphical indication encompasses appellations of origin. Examples of appellations of origin protected in states party to the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration are “Habana”, for tobacco grown in the Havana region of Cuba, and “Tequila”, for spirts produced in particular areas of Mexico.

Geographical indications are protected in accordance with national laws in a wide range of ways, such as under laws against unfair competition, consumer protection laws, laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin. In essence, unauthorized parties may not use geographical indications where the use is likely to mislead the public as to the true origin of the product. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.

Protection against Unfair Competition

Article 10bis of the Paris Convention requires member countries to provide for protection against unfair competition. According to this article, the following acts of competition are considered contrary to honest trade and industry practices:

All acts of such a nature as to create confusion with the establishment, the goods or the industrial or commercial activities of a competitor; false allegations in the course of trade such a nature as to discredit the establishment, the goods or the industrial or commercial activities of a competitor; and indications or allegations, the use of which in the course of trade are liable to mislead the public as to the characteristics of certain goods.

Protection against unfair competition supplements the protection of inventions, industrial designs, trademarks and geographical indications. It is particularly important for the protection of knowledge, technology or information that is not protected by a patent but that may be required in order to make best use of a patented invention.

Source: WIPO