On March 9 2018, Cambodia officially deposited its instrument of accession to the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications, becoming the first nation to join the Geneva Act.
Current climate in Southeast Asia
In recent years, Southeast Asian governments have actively promoted appellation of origin and geographical indication protection, with a view to bringing the world's attention to goods produced in Southeast Asia. The increasing popularity of geographical indications (GIs) among emerging markets confirms that GIs are viewed as an effective way to provide products of domestic importance and renown with an internationally competitive edge.
Added attractiveness of the Geneva Act
Appellation of origin and geographical indication protection are matters of national jurisdiction. For appellations of origin and GIs to assist international commerce and benefit local producers, multinational extension of such protection is critical.
International registration of appellations of origin was first made available in 1958 through the Lisbon Agreement. The Lisbon Agreement established a Special Union where international registration of appellations of origin in one Contracting Party could be extended throughout the union by means of an application filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) by the relevant national government in the name of its national registration's beneficiaries. Only 28 countries are currently Contracting Parties to the Lisbon Agreement, as many governments view the conditions for obtaining protection as burdensome.
Registration conditions for appellations of origin under the Lisbon Agreement are:
- The appellation must consist of a denomination identifying a geographical entity in the country of origin.
- The appellation must serve to indicate a reputation of the goods as linked to the geographical entity.
- The quality or characteristics of the goods indicated by the appellation must be due exclusively or essentially to the geographical environment of the geographical entity.
These demanding international registration conditions for appellations were reduced after the 2015 Geneva Act brought GIs within the Lisbon framework, under which the quality, reputation or other characteristic of the goods embodied in the indication are only required to be essentially attributable to their geographical origin.
Aside from the lower threshold of protection and setting out the grounds for refusing registration more clearly, the Geneva Act also opens up the application process to intergovernmental organisations. Furthermore, the Geneva Act allows individual beneficiaries to file international applications directly with WIPO, provided that the national law of the relevant Contracting Party so permits. These significant modifications will likely greatly increase applications for GIs under the Geneva Act.
The Geneva Act does not become effective until three months after five eligible parties deposit their instruments of ratification or accession. To date, only Cambodia has done so.
Outlook for Southeast Asia
Government promotion of GIs has become a matter of national importance in countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.
Aside from its recent accession to the Geneva Act, Cambodia has rapidly developed its internal GI registration framework, which started in 2009 with the first piece of legislation on the matter. This was replaced in 2014 by the Law on Geographical Indications. In 2016, this was supplemented by the Declaration on the Procedures for Registration and Protection of Geographical Indications of 2016.
In the same vein, Thailand has also expanded its protection of GIs. While Thailand's current Geographical Indications Protection Act dates from 2003, due to the government's promotion of GI awareness, the Thai Department of Intellectual Property allowed 44 new GI registrations in 2017 alone. This amounts to almost 40% of all GI registrations ever allowed under the 2003 law.
National GI beneficiaries are becoming increasingly aware of their rights under the national laws of Southeast Asian countries. The Geneva Act presents a welcome addition to the continued progress being made in Southeast Asia to modernise and continually improve intellectual property processes.
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