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Geographical indications can be powerful tools to maintain the quality and reputation of regional brands—but protecting them can take patience and persistence. 


At yesterday’s session CT20 The Experience Around Geographical Indications and Appellations of Origin for Champagne, Darjeeling Tea, and Colombian Coffee, panelists discussed how geographical indications (GIs) and appellations of origin (AO) can help safeguard the distinctiveness of regional products.

Fernando Triana, Founding Partner at Triana, Uribe & Michelsen Ltda (Colombia), who moderated the panel, laid the foundation for the discussion by defining the value of GIs and AOs. 

“Geographical indications are a way to highlight specific qualities of goods specific to the geographical area in which they are produced,” he said. “The use of a GI or AO also allows consumers to identify a product’s quality based on the characteristics of the area in which it’s produced.”

But these protections are not always readily available. “In many countries, AOs and GIs are not even protected,” Mr. Triana said. 

Not all GIs Are EqualThe Story of Darjeeling

Darjeeling tea is grown in sloping terrains in the Lesser Himalayas at altitudes ranging from 600 to 2,000 meters above the sea level. This unique climate, combined with the soil and the rainfall, create an agro-climatic condition that has given rise to Darjeeling’s famous muscatel flavor since the tea was first planted in 1845.

Darjeeling tea gardens are nearly 175 years old and the Indian Tea Board has engaged in the protection of Darjeeling as a GI around the world since 1986.

Yet, in general, Latha R. Nair, Partner at K & S Partners (India), noted, “It is very challenging to be born a ‘non-wine’, ‘non-spirit’ GI in a developing country.”

Both GIs and trademarks affect brands, she explained. “However, protection of GIs is so very challenging because there is no level playing field for GIs,” she said. “Unlike trademarks, the protection of which is streamlined around the world, GIs are protected in different parts of the world through different systems.”

“I want to say that while all GIs are equal, some GIs are more equal than others. It is not a complaint, but a dispassionate reflection arising from my representation of all kinds of GIs,” Ms. Nair said.

Some GIs Are Too Famous: The Protection of Champagne

The Champagne GI is one of the best-known in the world and, as with Darjeeling, a unique location and set of circumstances give it a distinctiveness that permits GI protection.

“As you know, the protection of Champagne has an historical background. It’s grown as a sparkling wine in a very particular region of France,” said Mr. Triana. “The method of producing Champagne implies the way the wine is poured into the bottle and rotated over a period of years.” 

While the method is not exclusive to the Champagne region, only sparkling wine that comes from that region may legally be called “Champagne,” he said. Since 1844, the GI for Champagne has been strongly protected and heavily litigated.

“We’ve been successful in blocking infringements, but the problem in the past three or four years is that many registrations were granted for ‘Champagne,’” explained Enrique A. Diaz, Senior Partner at Goodrich, Riquelme & Asociados (Mexico). “We have had some cases involving Champagne in Mexico as well.”

“While it may be easy to oppose an infringement when it’s related to goods, it’s not always a red line in how to oppose it when it comes to a service,” he said, noting that there are even some schools with the name “Champagne.”

The Intangible Value of GIs: Promoting Colombian Coffee

Café de Colombia became recognized as a denomination of origin in Columbia in 2005, and subsequently became recognized in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. It was also the first non-European protected GI in the European Union in 2007 and the first protected GI in Switzerland in 2013.

Since the emergence of highly recognized global coffee chains, the perception of quality coffee brands has shifted, and the Colombian coffee strategy had to evolve. “We came out with a protected GI as part of this strategy,” explained Luís Fernando Samper, Founder and President at 4.0 Brands SAS (Colombia). “[It] is an important tool to protect collective rights.”

Earning this status holds great value for Colombian coffee makers and the Colombian people.

“Coffee is very important for Colombia, and has a lot of social significance for many. In fact, half of the towns in Colombia produce coffee,” he said, emphasizing the added “intangible” value GI protection brings to a product and the perceived quality of a product. 

“Once you have GI protection it can be very powerful,” he said. “It takes a lot of effort – but once you get it, it can be very useful in legal terms.”

INTA 2019, geographical indications, GIs, champagne, appellations of origin, champagne