Government officials from around the world are gathering in Geneva for a diplomatic conference to negotiate a new treaty on geographical indications. Hogan Lovells partner Constanze Schulte reports from Geneva on the first day of the negotiations.

Government officials from around the world are meeting in Geneva as from yesterday for the Diplomatic Conference for the Adoption of a new Act of the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration, a diplomatic conference to negotiate a new multilateral treaty on appellations of origin and geographical indications. The treaty under negotiation is supposed to replace the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration, a treaty concluded in 1958 with 28 member states to date, including various member states of the European Union.

The current Lisbon Agreement relates to the protection of appellations of origin, defined in the agreement as “the geographical denomination of a country, region, or locality, which serves to designate a product originating therein, the quality or characteristics of which are due exclusively or essentially to the geographical environment, including natural and human factors.” Amongst the terms protected under the current system are designations such as “CHAMPAGNE”, “PORTO” and “TEQUILA”.

One of the important novelties of the new agreement under negotiation is that it will likely establish protection for the broader concept of “geographical indications”, defined in the current draft text for the new agreement as “any indication protected in the Contracting Party of Origin consisting of or containing the name of a geographical area, or another indication known as referring to such area, which identifies a good as originating in that geographical area, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.” Similar to the current Lisbon Agreement, the new Agreement will establish for a registration procedure with WIPO, in the context of which member states will notify the indications protected in their territory to WIPO, WIPO will register them and notify them to the other member countries of the system, and those can issue refusals of protection with a certain time period. The draft agreement includes rules on the scope of protection for registered terms, their relationship to prior trademarks and concerning prior use.

The draft text currently under discussion can be found here.

On its first day, the conference had to deal with an important and controversial issue with an important impact for the further discussion: will all member states of WIPO be permitted to participate in the conference on an equal footing, or will a distinction be made between members of the current Lisbon Agreement and other countries, with full participation and voting rights being limited to the former? The current Lisbon members decided to go for the second option, with only one current member voting against and another one abstaining, which means that this will be the first conference at WIPO after more than 20 years not to be held as an “open” conference and that the current Lisbon members will have a decisive influence on the outcome of the conference.

There are quite diverse perspectives around the world as to the appropriate mechanisms to protect geographical indications and the conference will need to decide on whether to pursue a framework broad enough to accommodate different protection systems. Whilst the current Lisbon members have emphasized their willingness to be inclusive and consider carefully all views in spite of the decision to establish a preferential treatment for current members in the negotiation process, it remains to be seen how this will translate into practice.

The conference has been prepared in a series of meetings of a Working Group at WIPO from 2009 to 2014 with the participation of delegates of countries, inter-governmental organizations (in particular, a strong involvement of the European Union) and certain NGOs, including the International Trademark Association (INTA). Hogan Lovells partner Constanze Schulte has participated in all meetings of the Working Group in representation of INTA together with INTA’s Geneva representative and is also attending the diplomatic conference in this capacity.

The conference is scheduled to last until 21 May 2014 and is programmed to end with a signature ceremony. We will keep you informed about the further developments in the course of the conference.