Geographical Indications - Questions and Answers
1. What are geographical indications (GIs)?
The TRIPS Agreement defines geographical indications (GIs) as terms used to "identify goods as originating in a particular geographical region, where a certain quality, reputation or characteristic is attributable to its geographical origin" (e.g.: climate, soil, proximity to the ocean). In other words, there must be a link between what the good is like and where it is produced. This link may inform consumers of a certain quality or characteristic of the good, which may then be factored into the purchasing decision. Geographical indications for food products are commonly used in Europe. Examples of GIs protected in Europe are: Roquefort cheese and Bordeaux wine. Canada, the United States and many other countries protect GIs as trademarks and certification marks.
2. How are geographical indications protected in Canada?
Canada protects geographical indications primarily through certification marks (Trade-Marks Act). Protection of geographical indications is also afforded through the common law tort of passing off, and in Québec under the Civil Code of Québec. Additional protection for geographical indications for wines and spirits is provided under the Trade-Marks Act in compliance with the requirements of Article 23 of the TRIPS Agreement. Canada fulfills its obligations of Article 22 of the TRIPS agreement through certification marks, as per the federal Trade-Marks Act.
A certification mark is a type of trademark used for the purpose of distinguishing goods and services that are of a defined standard from those that are not. The defined standards may relate to, inter alia, the quality of goods or services, and/or the area within which the goods have been produced or services performed, i.e. the geographical origin of the goods or services. This standard is set by the owner of the mark. Protection for GIs though the use of certification marks is provided in Canada without restriction as to the type of product or service.
For more information:
- Means of Protection of Geographical Indications in Canada
- Canadian Trade-Marks Database
- List of Geographical Indications for Wines and Spirits
- Trade Mark Information Industry Canada
3. What is "enhanced" protection?
"Enhanced" protection for wines and spirits (Article 23) differs from "regular" protection for other goods (Article 22). “Regular” protection aims at protecting consumers and producers by preventing the use of GIs that mislead the public or constitute unfair competition. ”Enhanced" protection means that even where there is no consumer deception or unfair competition, the indication may not be used in association with wines or spirits if it does not originate in the place indicated by the GI, e.g.: a producer may not use the term "Bordeaux-style wine" to identify a wine if it does not originate in the Bordeaux region, even if the true place of origin is clearly stated and the public is not misled.
4. What is GI extension?
Extension of GIs refers to extending an enhanced level of protection for wines and spirits to all other goods, including agri-food products.
5. What is Canada's position regarding GI extension?
Canada's position is that the GI protection provided for all goods by the current TRIPS Agreement is effective and adequate. This position is shared by several other WTO members such as Argentina, Australia, Chile, and the United States.
6. What could be the impact of extending enhanced GI protection to products other than wines and spirits?
Extending GI protection could end-up restricting the use of certain terms which would be costly for affected companies. Re-labeling could create confusion among consumers because they may not know that the generic name of a particular product has changed or may not realize that, despite the change, the product and quality remain the same. Another concern with enhanced protection relates to the impact these protections could have on existing intellectual property rights.It is important to note that Canada's positions in all negotiations take into account existing laws and policies on Intellectual Property, and the reality of the Canadian marketplace. Negotiators take into account laws and policies regarding Trademarks, as well as the use of common names in the Canadian marketplace that are used in association with agri-food products.
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