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What is a geographical indication?

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It isn't just the 'who' or 'what' that contributes to an international reputation: 'where' is becoming an increasingly important marketing tool. Here’s a geography lesson, IPstyle. When I think about all the things I love to eat and drink, I tend to think of Cowra cheese, Tasmanian smoked salmon, champagne from, well, Champagne. But why do I particularly ascribe to food and drinks by region? Is Tasmanian smoked salmon all that different to the smoked salmon farmed or fished around, for instance, Wollongong? Apparently so, which is why they use ‘Tasmanian’ on the packaging. ‘Tasmanian’ is registered as a geographical indication (GI), a form of intellectual property that represents the quality, consistency and flavour of local Tasmanian produce. GIs are currently only used by the wine industry here in Australia, but ‘Tasmanian’ could be protected as a GI for smoked salmon in the future. Interest in where food and drinks come from is on the rise, and GIs are going to become far more prevalent in the marketplace, both locally and overseas. A GI identifies goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation or some other characteristic essentially attributable to that area of origin, according to IP Australia. Cowra, Coonawarra, Tasmanian, Barossa Valley and Champagne are all examples of wine GIs, the latter international, all registered as GIs in Australia.

Who benefits?

Both the producer and the consumer benefit from the use of GIs. The producer benefits from marketing their product on the back of the reputation of the region, perhaps the high quality or particular flavour of the products known to be from that area, so sales increase. Many retailers that use a GI have reportedly been able to increase their prices as well, because demand has risen. The consumer benefits because they have more information about the product upfront, so they can make a more informed choice. The main industries that benefit from GIs are food and beverages: wine, tea and dairy in particular. However, GIs aren’t limited to agriculture; for example, ‘Bohemia’ is recognised as a GI for specific products, such as crystalware, made in the Czech Republic. The timber industry has also been known to use GIs. Producers of goods in a particular region that has staked out a reputation for quality, or perhaps industry groups and authorities that regulate the production of goods in a particular region are the entities most likely to seek formal protection of a GI. For example, the Winegrowers Association may seek GI protection to support the promotion of the unique attributes and qualities of the wines produced by its members. And that’s what a GI essentially boils down to: a marketing tool. But when used effectively, it may also enhance unit returns for producers and provide quality assurance and a point of differentiation for consumers, both within Australia and abroad. GIs identify goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or some other characteristic essentially attributable to that area of origin. Ian Goss, general manager for Business Development and Strategy at IP Australia, says the value of a GI is inextricably linked to its branding and marketing. "A GI that has no reputation and little market recognition is unlikely to add value to products. The Barossa Valley, for example, is a well known growing area and its produce has obtained a significant reputation in Australia and overseas." The Barossa Valley is registered as a GI on the Australian Register of Protected Names; other well known GIs include Coonawarra, Margaret River and Swan Valley. Being well-known for specific products, such as wine, also enhances a region’s ability to benefit from tourism, as many producers have experienced in the various wine regions.

Using geographical indications

While Australia doesn’t have a single system for registering geographical indications, the Register of Protected Names maintained by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation is the closest thing to official, and includes wine GIs from both Australia and the European Community. It is possible to seek registration of GIs for all types of products through the certification or collective trade mark system, which is regulated by IP Australia. Overseas producers seeking to protect their GIs in Australia use this route. Australian wine and spirit GIs are protected from misuse through specific legislation, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980, while all others are protected through a range of unfair competition and consumer protection legislation, including the Trade Practices Act 1974. "An exporter wishing to include an indication of geographic source, whether or not it is a GI, needs to ensure it accurately portrays any relationship with the source. False or misleading labelling could lead to action under trade practices, trade description, unfair competition or food standards laws," Goss further explains. Certification trade marks also have governing rules, he adds. "If an Australian GI is protected as a certification trade mark, then the Australian producer wishing to use it would need to adhere to the requisite rules governing its use. If an Australian GI is protected as a collective trade mark, then the exporter would need to be a member of the collective to use the mark." This goes for the use of GIs on the Register of Protected Names. "Similarly, if a GI for an Australian wine area is included on the Register of Protected Names, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980 has specific rules regarding the amount of wine originating from the designated area that must be contained in a product before the GI can be used," he says.

International indications

GIs are protected on a country-by-country basis, so a GI common name for a product that is available for use in Australia may not be available for use overseas. Exporters need to be aware of the regulations in each region to which they export as there are terms that may be used in trade marks and as descriptors on packaging in Australia, particularly in the food industry, which may be already protected as GIs in other countries, Goss explains. "This could potentially limit the ability of Australian exporters to use the same terms in other countries where they are protected as GIs, so they should check with the relevant authority, trade advisers or an intellectual property professional experienced in such matters." Protection for Australian and European wine terms has become increasingly formalised in recent years. There are also a number of foreign GI terms protected as certification trade marks in Australia, such as Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano for cheese, Darjeeling and Ceylon for tea, and Parma for ham. For some producers, a GI alone may not be the appropriate marketing tool to set their product apart from the pack. "Exporters should remember that a geographical indication can be used by all the producers of goods from a particular area that meet the required criteria, whereas a trade mark is usually the exclusive property of one trader," says Goss. "Therefore an exporter needs to evaluate whether a trade mark that has established a significant reputation is more valuable and easier to establish and protect than a geographical indication." So far, wine is the first and only cab off the rank in Australia to take up the use of GIs in a formalised, structured way, but other Australian producers would be wise to consider whether they might benefit from formally protecting their Australian GIs.

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