When you think of intellectual property and intellectual property rights, your mind might move to topics such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks. However, there is one other form of intellectual property which you might have overlooked: geographical indications. Geographical indications are more than just names on a map or a street sign – they prove that a product indisputably belongs to a particular place and that place alone.
Definition of Geographical Indications
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a geographical indication is “a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin”. This means that geographical indications are related to products which not only originate from a certain area; the products must derive their unique characteristics from that area itself. They usually apply to handicrafts, industrial products, agricultural products, food items, and alcoholic beverages.
Some geographical indications can become generic terms over time. Generic geographical indications are those which have become a general term for a product even though their literal meaning refers to a specific location. Not all geographical indications become generic terms, while some do in certain countries or at different times. Therefore, what may be deemed a geographical indication in one country might be considered a generic term somewhere else.
Rights Provided by Geographical Indications
Geographical indications allow those with the rights to use them to deny third parties the ability to do the same if the third parties’ products do not adhere to existing standards. In this way, any product which is neither produced in the relevant location nor produced according to the required standards will not be allowed to bear the name of the geographical indication in question.
It should also be noted that geographical indications do not prevent any third party from creating a product similar to that protected by the indication. This is because protection for a geographical indication is typically received through the acquisition of a right over the sign which constitutes it.
Protection of Geographical Indications
As a form of intellectual property, geographical indications need to be amply protected. They can be protected through special protective regimes, methods centred on proper business practices, or collective or certification marks. Each method differs in their respective scopes of protection and conditions for protection. Nevertheless, all have their use and their place as owners of rights to these indications strive to guard their products. In most cases, more than one method will be used simultaneously.
Only producers in the related geographical area may use a protected geographical indication. These producers must also be compliant with the related product’s specified conditions for production.
Enforcement of Geographical Indication Rights
Governments around the world have the power to institute and enforce laws related to geographical indication rights. Any relevant authority, public prosecutor, or interested public or private entity may utilize the right to take action. Those found to have violated geographical indication rights will be punished according to the existing intellectual property rights of the country in which the violation occurred. Such violations may also relate to improper or inappropriate licensing and franchising of a certain protected item.
So, the next time you’re in a store or mall and see something with a particular place name attached to it, don’t let it slip through your mind just like that. You might just have seen something with a geographical indication, making it a unique item which is not only legally protected but will also add a touch of multicultural and diverse character to your life.
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