Negotiators modernize international system for registering GIs

Author:Marcus Höpperger - Matthijs Geuze
Position:Director, Law and Legislative Advice Division - Head, Lisbon Registry, WIPO

Producers of origin-based quality products (goods produced within a given geographical area) – as well as consumers in search of such produce – stand to benefit from a recently revised international treaty which protects the indication of the geographical origin of, among others, coffee, tea, fruits, wine, cheese, pottery, glass and textiles.


Think Café de Colombia, Darjeeling tea, Florida oranges, Champagne, Gouda Holland, Jaipur blue pottery, Murano glass and Harris Tweed. Different jurisdictions protect such high-value, quality products in a variety of ways: through sui generis systems to protect appellations of origin (AOs) or geographical indications (GIs), or through the trademark system using collective marks and certification marks (see box).

The Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications, adopted by negotiators in Geneva on May 20, 2015, modernizes and updates the current Lisbon System by allowing for the international registration of GIs as well as AOs. The inclusion of GIs on the international register will offer a new avenue for producers to protect the distinctive designations of their goods internationally. The Geneva Act also accommodates the needs of countries that use the trademark system to protect GIs.

“The revision of a treaty is a major event in the life of the Organization that is responsible for the administration of the Agreement,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry at the opening of the Diplomatic Conference which ran from May 11 to 21, 2015. The revision of the Lisbon System, he said, was an opportunity to modernize it and to reflect the changes that had taken place in the world since its adoption in 1958. He referred, in particular, to the “wave of globalization which has seen markets open,” to “a heightened role for brands and identifiers,” and to “an enhanced appreciation of the value and importance of specificity and distinctiveness.” The challenge, he said, was to develop an international system that is attractive to all WIPO member states and that will enable the system to evolve and expand.

An evolving legal landscape

The current Lisbon Agreement, adopted in 1958, provides for a relatively high level of protection for AOs and makes it possible to protect them in multiple countries, regardless of the nature of the goods to which they apply. For its part, the WTO-administered Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) offers two tiers of protection; one generally applicable to GIs for all products and another, higher standard for GIs applicable to wines and spirits.

The newly adopted Geneva Act revises and modernizes the 1958 Lisbon Agreement in a number of ways. The changes introduced are designed to extend coverage of the System beyond AOs (qualification for which...

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