A geographical indication (“GI”) is a sign that identifies a product as originating from a specific venue or location and has given characteristics and qualities that are unique to its location or origin.
Under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, unregistered GIs already receive some protection in Singapore so that a GI cannot be used on any goods that did not originate from the place indicated by the GI, if such use misleads the public as to the true geographical origin of the goods.
By way of an illustration, winemakers using a technique identical to that used in the Champagne region of France are prohibited from marketing their wine as “champagne” if their winemaking does not actually take place in the Champagne region.
In a further step towards compliance with its obligations under the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (“EUSFTA”), Singapore established a new Registry of Geographical Indications (“GI Registry”) with effect from 1 April 2019.
A significant development from the above is that GI protection will now be extended to agricultural products and foodstuff such as cheese and cured meats, in addition to the protection already available for wines and spirits.
Furthermore, producers and traders of registered GIs will also have recourse against infringing goods which are imported into or exported from Singapore. The producers and traders may liaise with the customs authorities to detain infringing goods.
The application procedure for GIs mirrors the application procedure for trademarks, starting with an application specifying the quality, reputation or characteristics of the goods and how it is attributable to the geographical origin, followed by examination and publication (for purposes of third party opposition), before proceeding to registration. GI registration is valid for a period of 10 years and can thereafter be renewed for further periods of 10 years.
Following the setting up of the GI Registry, and in anticipation of the EUSFTA coming into force towards the end of this year, a total of 138 applications from the EU have been submitted, mostly food and beverage-related. Out of these 138 applications, 100 have been approved for registration, including:
– Champagne (sparkling wine)
– Roquefort (cheese)
– Cognac (brandy)
– Prosciutto di Parma (ham)
– Gorgonzola (cheese)
– Chianti (wine)
– Irish whiskey
– Irish cream
– Cava (sparkling wine)
– Scottish whisky
Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a recent statement that the GI Registry will enhance Singapore’s reputation as an intellectual property hub, and added that the GI Registry is open to applications from across the world, and not just the EU.
Besides being an identifier of a unique source or origin known for its characteristics and quality, GIs are also significant in the cultural context, as the EU Embassador to Singapore, Ms Barbara Plinkert puts it, “Hidden behind the rather enigmatic term of “Geographical Indications”, there is something very fundamental: it is about cultural heritage, about traditions, and it is about quality.” As such, GIs have been said to be a tool by which developing countries can use intellectual property to protect categories of local rural knowledge that they possess in abundance.
This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of IP Pro Magazine.