The European Commission adopted a legislative proposal for the revision of the regulations concerning European Union geographical indications for wine, spirit drinks and agricultural products, and quality schemes for agricultural products on 31 March 2022. The goal of the reform is to strengthen protection of the geographical indications especially on the internet and to increase uptake of the geographical indications. Furthermore, the reform aims to maintain the high food quality in the EU, ensure authenticity of products and preserve our cultural heritage.
EU QUALITY SCHEMES SYSTEM – WHAT MAY BE PROTECTED?
Protected designations of origin (PDO) have the closest link to the region where the products are made. Every step of the production, processing and preparation of the products must take place in this region. PDO may be used to protect food, agricultural products and wines. For example, Kalamata olives, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Lapin Puikula potatoes are familiar PDOs to many Finnish consumers.
Registering a product name as a protected geographical indication (PGI) requires that quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Usually at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation of the product must take place in the specific region. PGI may be used to protect food, agricultural products and wines. The requirements for protecting spirit drinks and aromatized wines are similar, but they are protected by a geographical indication of spirit drinks and aromatized wines (GI). For example, Gouda Holland cheese and Puruveden muikku are registered PGIs and Vodka of Finland is a registered GI.
The EU quality schemes system covers also traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG), which emphasizes the traditions related to preparation or composition of the product, but a link to a specific geographical area is not necessary. The applicant may choose whether it wishes to reserve the name only for use in connection with products in compliance with the registered product specification, or if the name may be used also for other similar products (without referring to a registered TSG). TSG may be used to protect food and agricultural products. For example, use of the TSGs ‘karjalanpiirakka’, ’kalakukko’ and Jamón Serrano is allowed only if the products are prepared according to the registered product specification.
Contrary to, for example, trademarks, which create an exclusive right for the trademark owner to use the mark in connection with the goods and services covered by the registration, product names protected by geographical indications or TSGs may be used by all producers, whose products meet the requirements of the quality scheme in question.
WHAT WILL CHANGE?
The key measures the Commission proposes to strengthen the protection and increase uptake of the geographical indications are summarized below.
- Simplified registration process: Registration processes of the different EU quality schemes will be harmonized. The Commission proposes a single simplified procedure for all the geographical indications. Furthermore, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) will provide support in the examination of the applications. The simplified process aims to speed up the duration of the registration process.
- Increased online protection: Products protected by geographical indications are increasingly sold via online platforms and the reform aims to meet the need for increased online protection. In future it may be possible to for example take action against infringing use of the geographical indication in a domain name.
- Sustainability aspects: Voluntary requirements concerning social, environmental or economic sustainability are introduced to protect natural resources, secure local plant varieties and animal breeds, and to improve animal welfare. The Commission proposes that above mentioned sustainability requirements could be added to the product specification in the application, and use of the protected name would be allowed only if the sustainability requirements are fulfilled.
- More power to the producers: According to the proposal member states could designate a recognized producer group for each geographical indication at the request of the producers. This would provide more powers and responsibilities to the producer groups to develop the protected products and to defend their rights in possible infringement cases.
The legislative proposal of the Commission proceeds now to the examination of the European Parliament and the Council. We will await information of the next stages of the process and follow with interest the effects on protection of the geographical indications in practice.
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