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Food for thought on GIs


Potatoes were on the menu at an AIPPI session on collective marks and geographical indications. Armed with promotional golf equipment and cuddly toys, and sporting a potato-themed tie, Patrick Kole of the Idaho Potato Commission illustrated why the state of Idaho in the United States (“a place I’m proud to call home”) produces “the best potatoes in the world”

Patrick Kole, Idaho Potato Commission

Idaho’s elevation, soil quality and history of farming all contribute to its strong potato industry. “We depend on a lot of things to make our agricultural products unique. A geographical indication is a connection to the soil combined with unique qualities of workmanship that go into the product,” said Kole, who noted that Idaho potatoes can command a premium of up to 50 cents per 5lb bag.

To protect and promote the Idaho potato brand, the state created the Idaho Potato Commission in 1937. Governed by nine commissioners, it has a $13.5 million annual budget. Since its launch, the Commission has spent over $400 million on promoting the brand.

But, said Kole: “There are legal problems that come when you become successful,” which means an enforcement programme is essential. Potato manufacturers from other regions have sought to capitalise on the Idaho name: the Commision spent $13 million on one court case against a party that was putting Canadian potatoes into Idaho bags.

Kole’s potato presentation accompanied a discussion on the panel about the relative merits of collective marks and geographical indications. Sandra Leis of Dannemann Siemsen set out the similarities and differences between the two means of protection in several useful charts. She also noted that there is very little harmonisation around the world, but that it is evolving thanks to the recent Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement, numerous bilateral agreements and discussions about extending protection under Article 23 of TRIPs to other agricultural products such as cheese.

Volker Schoene of Loschelder compared the enforcement of collective marks and GIs, using the German brand Dresdner Stollen as an example. He concluded that “GIs are the strongest” as public as well as private law sanctions are available, and public authorities may take action. When the chips are down, GIs can also be enforced against both local non-members of the community and non-local producers.

A lively discussion included questions from the audience on the scope of GIs and the possible mashing of different rights, as well as recent trends in various countries, demonstrating that this issue continues to be a hot potato.

Then Kole handed out some more cuddly toys to the audience members who had attended the whole session. And with that, the session finished – just in time for lunch.

Differences between collective marks and GIs

Collective marks

Geographical indications

Names or designs

Names only

10-year term

No fixed term

Goods/services from collective entity

Goods from geographical area

May be cancelled for non-use

Can only be cancelled if GI requirements change

Presumption of quality

Guarantee of quality

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