The New Zealand government announced this week that it is picking back up on a 20+ year old project, implementing a system which will provide registered protection for Geographical Indications (GIs). 

This article sets out an overview of GIs, how they have been protected by NZ law, and the impacts of the proposed regime.

GIs: the basics

What’s a geograpical indication?

A geographical indication (GI) is a sign that specifies a geographical origin of goods that possess certain qualities or reputation due to that origin.  Examples of GIs include Champagne, Cognac, and Darjeeling.  GIs are different to trade marks, indications of source and appellations of origin, as the following two criteria must be satisfied:

The mark must identify a product as originating from a given place; and
Certain qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should essentially be due to that place of origin.

By contrast, trade marks can identify non-geographical origins of trade, indications of source need not relate to the qualities or characterstics of goods from that source, and qualities or characterstics of goods protected by appellations of origin must result exclusively from the geographical origin.

Benefits of GIs

GIs can act as product differentiators in a marketplace, and can be a key element in developing collective brands. They can provide competitive advantage, added value to your product and brand, and can increase export opportunities.  Protecting a GI allows a rightsholder to prevent unauthorised use by freeriders and maintain the integrity of their product.

Why provide legal protection for GIs?

New Zealand is obligated to protect GIs under the TRIPS Agreement.  We must provide interested parties means to protect GIs against misleading use or unfair competition.  We must also provide additional means to prevent unauthorised use of GIs relating to wines and spirits.

Current New Zealand law

Currently, New Zealand law protects GIs through the Fair Trading Act 1986, trade mark law, and the common law of passing off.  For example, there are some collective marks on the New Zealand Trade Marks Register protecting GIs in New Zealand including WAIHEKE ISLAND CERTIFIED WINE and PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, and STILTON is registered as a certification mark.

New developments

The new Bill announced this week is set to bring The Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 into force.  The Act will create a register for GIs, and interested parties will be able to apply to register the names and boundaries of GIs for wines and spirits.  A committee of wine and spirit experts will examine applications and determine which marks should be registered.  Examples of GIs likely to be registered include ‘Marlborough’, ‘Otago’ and ‘Hawkes Bay’ in relation to wine.  The Bill itself also deems the terms ‘New Zealand’, ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ to automatically be “enduring New Zealand Geographical Indications”.

Users of GIs must then abide by the registered conditions.  Once registered, a GI for wine will only be usable on products where at least 85% of the wine comes from that region.  A GI for spirits may only be used on products originating from the specified region.  The Act will provide a framework for rightsholders to address illicit or improper use of GIs.

Once a holder has a registration for a New Zealand GI, it will also be much easier to gain international protection of that GI.  For example, a holder of a New Zealand registered GI will likely be able to obtain registrations in other countries with such a framework.

Moving forward

The wine industry welcomes the proposed change, as it will provide consumers with knowledge that a bottle labelled “Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc” is in fact what it is claiming to be.  The system will strengthen and defend the well-established reputations we have for New Zealand wines, which will assist the industry’s goal to become a top 5 export industry hitting over NZD $2 billion in export sales.