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A geographical indication is a distinctive sign used to identify a product as originating in the territory of a particular country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographical origin.

Why do Geographical Indications matter?

  • The protection of geographical indications matters economically and culturally. They can create value for local communities through products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography. They support rural development and promote new job opportunities in production, processing and other related services.
  • Over the years European countries have taken the lead in identifying and protecting their geographical indications.
    • For example: Cognac, Roquefort cheese, Sherry, Parmigiano Reggiano, Teruel and Parma hams, Tuscany olives, Budějovické pivo, and Budapesti téliszalámi.
  • Geographical indications are becoming a useful intellectual property right for developing countries because of their potential to add value and promote rural socio-economic development. Most countries have a range of local products that correspond to the concept of geographical indications but only a few are already known or protected globally.
    • For example: Basmati rice or Darjeeling tea.
  • However, geographical names with commercial value are exposed to misuse and counterfeiting. The abuse of geographical indications limits access to certain markets and undermines consumer loyalty. Fraudulent use of geographical indications hurts both producers and consumers.

EU trade policy and geographical indications

The EU supports better protection of geographical indications internationally due to the increasing number of violations throughout the world. The EU is active in multilateral and bilateral negotiations protecting EU geographical indications.

At a multilateral level

  • The Agreement on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights contains a specific section on geographical indications. It enhances their protection and expands it to a significantly higher number of countries than previous international agreements.
  • The EU continues to be one of the principal supporters of negotiations on Geographical indications in the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda.
  • Negotiations have focused on: the establishment of a multilateral Register for geographical indications and the extension to all products of the level of protection currently granted to wines and spirits.
  • Geographical Indications remain one of the most contentious intellectual property rights issues in the WTO and Members have not made substantive progress.

At a bilateral level

The way forward for EU geographical indications

  1. The EU has recently concluded a series of free trade agreements that contain important levels of protection for geographical indications:
  2. Extending the scope of protection to non-agricultural geographical indications.
    • The Commission published an independent study on the protection of geographical indications for products other than wines, spirits, agricultural products or foodstuffs in 2009. The Study analyses 28 non-agricultural products enjoying protection in certain EU Member States and in non-EU countries. It compares the protection systems available to these products and analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the protection systems identified.  Study on the protection of GIs for non-agricultural products
    • On 22.3.2013 the Commission published a study on protection via geographical indications for non-agricultural products in the internal market. While a system using geographical indications to protect many kinds of food products has been in place for a long time, there is currently no EU-wide system of protection via geographical indications for non-agricultural products - products that have a particular geographic origin and tradition, such as typical regional handicrafts. This study will feed into the Commission's on-going analysis of whether action at EU level is required in this area. It evaluates the existing legal framework for protection by geographical indication for non-agricultural products in the different EU Member States and the economic consequences of its fragmentation, as well as putting forward possible solutions.

More on geographical indications

Geographical indications in other Commission departments
Other resources