Panelists from Colombia and Switzerland spoke today about the challenges of protecting geographical indications in the face of multiple threats.
Felix Addor (Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, Switzerland), who opened the discussion in CSA21 Geo-Branding: The Global Interplay Between Geographical Indications and Trademarks yesterday morning, described how free riders have been increasingly taking advantage of the Swiss indication of source and diluting the concept of “Swissness,” but the authorities are fighting back.
Mr. Addor recalled seeing so-called “Swiss cosmetics” on Las Ramblas—Barcelona’s buzzing central street popular with traders and tourists—but he questioned whether these goods were truly Swiss.
In January 2017, the Institute sought to strengthen protection for the “Swiss cross” and ‘Made in Switzerland’ designation by introducing new “Swissness” legislation.
According to the Institute: “The core of the bill establishes precise rules in the Trade Mark Protection Act concerning the conditions under which a product or service may be labelled as being Swiss.
“Anyone who fulfills these criteria may opt to use the ‘Made in Switzerland’ designation without authorisation. If these rules are complied with, not only services can be endorsed with the “Swiss cross,” but goods also.”
The legislation sets different rules for three distinct types of goods: natural, foodstuffs, and industrial.
The rules require, for example, that at least 60 percent of the manufacturing costs of industrial products must occur in Switzerland; for foodstuffs, at least 80 percent of the weight of the available raw materials in Switzerland must actually originate in the country.
Switzerland is home to many famous names and brands, including sportsman Roger Federer and companies Credit Suisse and Nestlé, and these and many more were displayed in a video montage during Mr. Addor’s presentation.
Protecting Your Reputation
He said the Swiss label stands for reliability, tradition, quality, and exclusivity, and “people have the expectation that these products come from Switzerland.”
But with copycats and free riders taking advantage of the “good reputation of Swissness,” there has been a dilution of the Swiss label. In light of these problems, the new rules seek to strengthen the Swiss brand and preserve its value, Mr. Addor said.
He added that the new criteria are flexible, but stressed the three key principles at play: 1) fair competition is ensured and deceptive practices prevented; 2) use is free and voluntary (but the rules must be respected); and 3) no registration or authorization is required.
The Institute has created a national register for geographical indications (GIs) of non-agricultural products, on the basis of a “geographical trademark”—which aims to facilitate enforcement of Swiss designations in Switzerland and abroad.
The enforcement system includes state chemists and customs remedies, and the Institute can take civil and criminal action.
When enforcement abroad is required, Switzerland’s global embassies inform the Institute of potential infringement before it notifies the relevant industry federations. For example, the Swiss chocolate industry might object to a mark in a foreign country; in Chile it has already had success using this process.
“But that is not always enough,” Mr Addor noted, stating that in China the Institute has launched 350 trademark oppositions, with the majority still pending. To date, he said, it has lost 12 cases and won 50.
The session also heard from Esteban Rubio (Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia [The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia], Colombia). The federation represents 560,000 coffee growers, 96 percent of which are small companies.
According to Mr. Rubio, the federation uses several tools to ensure Colombian coffee is “100 percent Colombian,” even though it is hard to reach that goal.
These tools include registering trademarks, certification marks, GIs, appellations of origin, and exclusive origin trademarks.
“We are trying to ensure that each time you drink a Colombian coffee it was cultivated and produced in Colombia.”
The Chair of INTA’s Geographical Indications Committee, Eric De Gryse (Simont Braun, Belgium), closed the session, highlighting four major challenges facing GIs into the future: genericness; registration/certification; collective use; and protecting against misuse.
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