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Some Movement at WTO on Multilateral Register for Geographical Indications for Wines & Spirits

In what is being touted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the first attempt to produce a single draft text for a Multilateral Register for Geographical Indications for Wines and Spirits pursuant to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), representatives from WTO member countries met this month and put together a written draft of their conflicting positions on how one would notify a geographical indication for wines or spirits for registration on a multilateral register.

As some background, WTO members agreed during the Doha Development Round of WTO trade negotiations in 2001 to develop a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits so that terms such as Cognac, Napa Valley and Barolo could receive recognition or protection as place names at the international level.

However, exactly what such protection would be and how it would be accomplished was not set forth in any manner at the Doha Rounds and the negotiations that followed demonstrated that there were vast differences between WTO members as to what these should be.  On the one side was the “new world” led by the U.S., Australia, Canada and others which believed that the multilateral register should be nothing more than a list of wine and spirit geographical indications that would simply serve as a reference for WTO members with no legal effect.  On the other side was the “old world” led by the European Union, Switzerland, and later a network of developing countries seeking to tie their own IP interests to the geographical indication issue, which wanted mandatory protection of wine and spirit geographical indications in all WTO countries once placed on the multilateral register.

Between these two groups was Hong Kong, which set forth a “middle ground” proposal which attempted to address concerns raised by both sides: on the one side, the new world countries were concerned with conflicts of geographical indications with trademarks and terms which were generic in some countries, such as Champagne; on the other side, the old world countries sought to have some type of legal effect for the registration system so that geographical indications would have protection on par with other types of intellectual property.  Along with Hong Kong, a middle ground position has also been proposed by the International Trademark Association.  Both of these proposals have provisions for the protection of trademarks with prior rights and recognition of generic terms, while also allowing geographical indications with no conflicting issues to be recognized and protected with legal effect.

Since Doha, the process has been characterized by gridlock with very little movement on the principal issue of the multilateral register for wines and spirits, and expansion of the gridlock by adding other controversial topics to the discussion, such as expansion of such a register to goods other than wines and spirits.

The WTO has set a deadline of the end of the first quarter of 2011 for a draft written text covering six different points related to the Multilateral Register.  This development this month is movement on the first point.  It is an ambitious plan, but given the lack of movement over the past 10 years, certainly something to be optimistic about.

For more information on the current negotiations on the Multilateral Register for Geographical Indications for Wines and Spirits, follow the below link to the WTO web site:

http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news11_e/trip_ss_13jan11_e.htm

For more information on assistance with protecting geographical indications in the U.S. and abroad, contact Scott Gerien at sgerien@dpf-law.com

Copyright Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty at www.lexvini.com

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