Search the Archives           Subscribe           About this News Service           Reader Comments

Archived updates for Wednesday, March 16, 2005

WTO Issues Panel Report on EC GIs, Sides with U.S.

According to a press release from the USPTO, yesterday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) released its panel report affirming the United States' assertion that European Community (EC) regulations discriminate against foreign owners of geographical indications (GIs), and that the EC cannot deny trademark owners their rights. Accordingly, the panel found the EC's GI Regulation inconsistent with the EC's WTO obligations under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994).

"Geographical indications" (GIs) under the WTO TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) are "indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.� Examples could include Parma ham, Roquefort cheese, Florida oranges, Vidalia onions, or Idaho potatoes.

The EC Regulation creates a system for registering and protecting geographical indications for agricultural goods sold in the EC market. But while the Regulation allows EC rightholders to apply directly to register and protect their GIs for EC products, non-EC nationals must rely on their government to apply for the protection in the EC on their behalf, as well as to object to GI applications in the EC. Furthermore, foreign governments must adopt a system of GI protection that mirrors the EC’s and that provides reciprocal protection to EC products in order for their foreign rightholders to be considered for benefits of the EC Regulation’s protections.

Lois Boland, Director of the Office of International Relations explained that “the discrimination against U.S. GI owners has been all the more frustrating because the United States provides robust protection for GIs, whether of domestic or foreign origin. The U.S. system has proved to be very flexible, easy to use, and a powerful tool against infringement for the owner’s of these valuable intellectual property rights. We were also concerned that under the terms of the EC Regulation, U.S. trademark owners were losing their ability to preserve the distinctiveness of their marks in Europe if they had to market their products alongside products using a similar geographical indication. USPTO is very pleased with the Panel’s findings and looks to the resolution of this case as providing an opportunity to move towards a closer working relationship with the European Communities on geographical indications issues.�

The United States requested WTO dispute consultations on the EU GI Regulation in June 1999. On August 18, 2003, the United States requested the establishment of a panel, and panelists were appointed on February 23, 2004. The panel issued a confidential draft interim report on November 19, 2004, and a final report to the Parties on December 21, 2004. Yesterday, that report was made public by the WTO.
    (0)comment(s)     translate     More Updates     Send