13 October 2015Trademarks

AIPPI 2015: Toy potatoes prompt GI discussion

Of all the things you would expect to see at an AIPPI Congress, a man handing out toy potatoes is probably not at the top of the list.

But this was what delegates experienced at a session on geographical indications (GIs) and certification marks at the  2015 AIPPI World Congress in Rio de Janeiro today, October 13.

Patrick Kole, vice president of the Idaho Potato Commission, had attendees laughing when he started off his speech by asking delegates who had been to Idaho, “a little-known US state in the north-west of the United States”.

Those who raised their hands were given a potato-shaped badge with ‘Idaho’ emblazoned on it.

Kole then asked: “Who was surprised to see a potato guy at an intellectual property conference?”, a question which prompted several more hands to be raised.

He then proceeded to hand out several potato-shaped teddy bears dressed in red jackets to bemused delegates.

The light-hearted moment formed the start of a discussion on what would be more beneficial to product owners, a GI or a certification trademark.

A certification mark indicates that a product has met certain standards. GI status illustrates that a product comes from a certain area and is made in a specific way with strict rules on its production.

Speaking in favour of GIs, Kole said that for his organisation a GI is “a connection to the soil and shows unique characteristics”.

He said that around 315,000 potatoes are grown in Idaho every year and that the commission has spent $400 million promoting the “Idaho brand” over the past 76 years.

But he added that GI protection alone was not enough.

“You have to have an effective enforcement programme and make sure that the brand is strong. GIs are only as important as the amount of advertising and promotion put behind them.”

People will always cheat, he added, showing delegates pictures of products purporting to be Idaho potatoes but which had been produced elsewhere.

He added that certification marks “can become generic”.

Sandra Leis, partner at law firm Dannemann Siemsen, spoke of the differences between the two types of protection but said that each country has its own different ways of defining GIs and certification marks so it is “very difficult to harmonise”.

She said that for certification marks there is only a “presumption of quality” but a GI provides a “guarantee” of quality.

“GIs can also bring economic benefits to an area, including tourism and jobs. If an area has a famous GI attached to it (such as Parma Ham or Champagne) it can become a tourist centre as a result.”

One downside, however, is that GIs provide no protection against cybersquatting, Leis said.

“If someone were to register www. followed by the name of GI it would be very difficult to fight against it,” she said.

The 2015 AIPPI World Congress is taking place at the Windsor Barra Hotel and Congressos in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It closes tomorrow, October 14.

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