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This page provides an introduction to geographical indication or appellation schemes.

It covers -

It supplements discussion of intellectual property and of trademarks elsewhere on this site.


A geographical indication - aka a denomination, indication of source or appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) - is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and are claimed to possess qualities or a reputation attributable to that place of origin.

Its collective nature - potentially encompassing the output of hundreds or thousands of enterprises - contrasts with trademarks, which identify individual brands, products or organisations (and which are affected be 'genericide' if loosely used).

Typically a geographical indication consists of the name of the place of origin of goods, in particular agricultural products such as wine, cheese or meat. Agricultural goods identified in that way are typically asserted to have distinctive qualities that derive from the place of production, are influenced by specific local factors such as soil and climate, and may embody cultural attributes such as production by craftspeople using traditional methods rather than large scale manufacture.

Whether a sign functions as a geographical indication is a matter of both national law, usually underpinned by a formal registration scheme and reflected in international trade agreements such as TRIPS, and consumer perception.

Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, including

  • Champagne - a type of wine produced in a particular part of France
  • Roquefort - cheese produced in France
  • Mozzarella - a buffalo cheese produced in Italy
  • Tuscany - olive oil produced in a particular area of Italy

Other examples of indications are highlighted here.

     Appellations and Indications of Source

The term 'geographical indication' has been used loosely - or opportunistically - to cover two levels of identifiers.

An indication of source typically identifies that a product has been produced in a particular location.

That product might be an agricultural commodity such as wine, processed meat or cheese. It might instead be a handcraft, such as Thai silk, and much of the disagreement in trade negotiations at the bilateral and multilateral levels has concerned whether protection should be extended beyond a small number of agricultural products (particularly products from Europe).

Mere association of a product with a place of origin - a mechanism provided through such things as the 'Australian Made' label - does not necessarily signify quality. The second level of geographical indication - often referred to as appellation of origin (or denomination) - accordingly seeks to signal the particular product's quality.

Rights to the appellation are typically restricted to producers that are located in the particular location, are registered and abide by a regulatory regime that emphasises specific production techniques and standards. Registration and supervision might be by a private sector body that has government recognition.

Proponents of appellation schemes usually seek exclusive use of the particular identifier and for example argue that the term 'champagne' can only be used to characterise a type of alcoholic beverage produced in the Champagne region of France. That argument has persuaded some courts outside France, for example in New Zealand.

     global frameworks

Geographical indication legislation emerged in the first decades of last century, led by the wine industry in France. It has since become a feature of national jurisdiction in Europe, Australia and elsewhere.

Adoption has occurred on a push-pull basis, with lawmaking reflecting domestic pressure (including potential use of appellation schemes as a trade barrier, interest in strengthening regional economies and preserving cultures under threat from mechanisation) and international trade negotiations.

The 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) includes specific protection for geographical indications as a form of intellectual property. Under Articles 22 to 24 TRIPS members are required to "provide the legal means for interested parties” to protect geographical indications, defined as that

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 geographical origin.

Members are required to prohibit

use of any means in the designation or presentation of a good that indicates or suggests that the good in question originates in a geographical area other than the true
place of origin in a manner that misleads the public as to the geographical origin of the good.

The must accordingly

refuse or invalidate the registration of a trademark which contains or consists of a geographical indication with respect to goods not originating in the territory indicated, if use of the indication in the trademark for such goods in that Member is of such a nature as to mislead the public as to the true place of origin.

Geographic indications are to be protected

even where the true origin of the goods is indicated or the geographical indication is used in translation or accompanied by expressions such as 'kind', 'type', 'style', 'imitation' or the like.

However geographical indications that might otherwise be prohibited can continue in use if they have been in continuous use since April 1984, a trademark was secured in good faith prior to TRIPS or the indication is the customary name of a variety grown in the particular country.

Treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provide for protection of geographical indications, primarily the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the 1960 Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin & Their International Registration.

The Paris Convention indicated that

the protection of industrial property has as its object patents, utility models, industrial designs, trademarks, indications of source or appellations of origin, and the repression of unfair competition.

Under the Lisbon Agreement

an appellation of origin is the geographical name of a country, region, or locality, which serves to designate a product originating therein, the quality and characteristics of which are due exclusively or essentially to the geographical environment, including natural and human factors.


The 2000 OECD report on Appellations of Origin & Geographical Indications in OECD Member Countries: Economic & Legal Implications (PDF) notes that

we find a number of different situations, with countries or country groups having various definitions and systems of protection, which may further differ from one product to another. One group of countries not only accepts and protects geographical indications but quite some time ago developed a more specific form of geographical name, the appellation of origin. This concept is not found in the law of all OECD countries. Among the countries giving special protection to appellations of origin, some refer back to a lengthy tradition. This is the case with some European Union countries, in particular France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. On the other hand, Korea has just recently adopted a special system to protect geographical names which bears a close resemblance to the systems covering appellations of origin.

Countries with a long experience of appellations of origin have set a specific system of legal protection in place. The systems established in the European countries mentioned above, with a number of shared characteristics, are the basis for the single system approved by the European Union in Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2081/92 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs. That system does not apply to wines and spirits, which are covered by separate European regulations.

The system introduced by the European Union, like the national systems on which it is based, is characterised by a series of legal provisions and institutions. There are two names to be protected: the designation (appellation) of origin and the geographical indication. Designation of origin means "the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country, used to describe an agricultural product or a foodstuff originating in that region, specific place or country, and the quality or characteristics of which are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors, and the production, processing and preparation of which take place in the defined geographical area".

Geographical indication means "the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country, used to describe an agricultural product or a foodstuff originating in that region, specific place or country and which possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin and the production and/or processing and/or preparation of which take place in the defined geographical area".

The European Union thus protects two denominations, which relate to two different levels of link between product and geographical origin. For the designation of origin the link is essential, and the entire production process must take place in the defined geographical area, but for the geographical indication the link is less firm since it is sufficient that either production, processing or preparation take place in the area specified. The reputation element is found only in the definition of geographical indication.
Following voluntary initiatives by groups of producers, Member States forward applications for registration to the European Union after conducting national checks that they comply with the criteria set down in Regulation (EEC) 2081/92. Once a product has been recognised as a protected designation of origin (PDO) or protected geographical indication (PGI), it is automatically recognised and protected in all EU countries against misuse of any kind. Protection relates to the name in itself and applies throughout the EU countries, without reference to reputation or to any loss to consumers. To qualify for registration, producers must form groups and show the relevant national body proof of the link between product and geographical area, and product specifications which strictly regulate the production process (from raw materials to processing and packaging), and which they undertake to observe in order to make use of the registered name. Compliance with the specifications has to be monitored by an independent, objective and impartial structure.

Elsewhere, especially in common law countries, we find systems of protection for geographical indications embodied in existing laws on trademarks, unfair trade practices and consumer protection. Australia, Canada and the United States are in this group, together with the United Kingdom, although the latter is a special case

In these countries, protection for geographical indications is covered by trademark law. As a rule, a geographical indication cannot be registered as a trademark, but it can be registered as a certification mark. In that case certification may apply to materials, methods of manufacture, quality, or geographical origin. Registration as a certification mark entails presenting user regulations. It cannot be used and marketed by its owner. Accordingly, producers form groups and the group itself becomes the owner of the certification mark, which is then used and marketed by the producers themselves.

The development of a specific legal system based on appellation of origin reflects the idea that some products have specific characteristics related to their geographical origin and a traditional processing method often developed over centuries which are part of a common heritage of that community. The existence and development of a specific legal framework with regard to these products was also considered to be important to avoid the risk of “free riders” who do not respect the specifications and who could therefore threaten the quality of the finished product. The result is a semi public/semi private system in which it is not always clear how costs and benefits are distributed between producers and consumers. In some European countries, producer groups pay for the registration of their appellation of origin so as to defend on a legal basis their product’s name in third countries. In other European countries, public systems intervene to help producers defend appellations of origin in third countries and producers do not pay for the registration of their products. The notion that a common good belonging to a specific territory could be privately owned, as is the case with trademarks or collective marks, is not accepted.

Another group of countries applies the already existing trademark system to protect geographical names. Geographical names, through the use of private trademarks, collective trademarks or certification
trademarks, are recognised as privately owned. These countries believe that a separate system for the protection of geographical indications is not warranted. Private persons acquire traditional trademark rights on the basis of the exclusive use of that geographical name, which results in the term becoming distinctive of that good (Meltzer, 1999). Concurrently, it is recognised that when many persons or the inhabitants of a region wish to use the same geographical name, that name can be used by all persons as a certification mark indicating a regional origin.

A number of countries, led by the EC, are seeking to extend the enhanced level of protection afforded to wines and spirits in Article 23 of the TRIPs Agreement to all products, including agricultural products, processed foods, beverages and handicrafts. These products already receive a level of protection under the existing TRIPs Agreement and no credible evidence has been presented that this protection is inadequate. Australia does not believe there is any mandate in the Doha Declaration to negotiate GI-extension, but has agreed to participate in consultations. Australia’s view is that the costs of GI-extension far outweigh any perceived benefits. Some developing countries are supporting the proposal for higher protection because of the potential they see for increasing the value of ‘flagship’ products such as ‘Thai silk’ and ‘Kenyan coffee’. While some developing country and other developed country producers may possibly benefit from increased GI-protection for one or two products, the major beneficiary of extension would be the EC which has almost 700 products registered as GIs within its own territory. On the other hand, the costs of extension would fall overwhelmingly on non-EC countries who would have to protect all of Europe’s GIs with little in return. GI-extension would not in itself, for example, guarantee access to export markets.

The negative impact of GI-extension is likely to be felt most acutely by new world agricultural producers such as Australia, which produces a range of food products that Europe claims as its own, such as feta and parmesan, despite the fact that Australia, as an immigrant nation, has been producing and trading these products for decades. The costs of GI-extension are also likely to fall heavily on developing countries who do not necessarily have the legal and administrative capacity to provide the increased level of protection for GIs sought by the EC.


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version of December 2006
© Bruce Arnold
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