Introduction: a different kind of distinction

What do “Roquefort”, “Tequila” and “Champagne” have in common?

First of all, yes – they’re all valuable brands.

But these names are also used in marketing and strategic campaigns to exclusively differentiate:

  • blue cheese from blue cheese made in a certain part of France
  • sparkling white wine from sparkling wine made in a certain part of France using a specific method
  • a distilled clear spirit from alcohol distilled from alcohol derived from the Blue Agave plant and made only in specific parts of Mexico

These names allow the products covered by the names to fetch a premium price in the market.

Would you pay a premium price for “champagne” or “crémant”? The fact that many go with the former over the latter, has established an entire market around a small geographical area worth billions.

When such names are linked to the regions where they are produced people visit these regions for the purposes of tourism and gastronomy.

For example: think of the value of the Scotch Whisky trail to tourism in Scotland.

Governments can use those names to promote the regions from whence the products originate and they also create public policy to protect them.

These names allow marketers to exclusively tell a story about the authenticity and calibre of these products.

And whilst similar products, or comparable quality may be made elsewhere – they are typically not as sought after as those that have become synonymous in the minds of consumers.

Geographical Indications (GIs)

For those in the know, these names are all known as marks which are Geographic Indications or GIs – in other words they’re globally recognised brands that tell a story about both the region and origin of where, why and how a product is produced.

And that ability to tell a global story is precisely why these type of brands have never been more valuable.

Do you want a watch or do you want a “Swiss Watch”? Do you want a tweed jacket – or do you want a “Harris Tweed” jacket?

GIs come with a guarantee of value or authenticity. Consumers can and do pay more for the brand recognition and this can be very useful to maintain margins and distinguish the quality of products.

Indeed, GIs are some of the oldest types of IP and there’s a very good reason for this.

These products aren’t just any old products. They’re ones that have a deep and meaningful provenance.

Success stories

A fantastic example of the economic power of GIs is Columbian Coffee. Coffee growers in Columbia suffered for years from variable prices depending on annual coffee yields. The coffee growers first registered a character/logo mark back in the 1980s. They then registered Columbian as a certification mark in the USA and elsewhere.

In 2007 the EU recognised Café de Columbia as the first non-EU protected GI. From that point on further specific regions of Columbia have been recognised as being protected GIs namely Café de Narino and Café del Cauca. This has allowed poor coffee growers to differentiate their product and maximise the profit on the beans they grow and sell globally.

Look around – there are now lots of protected GI products, with global demand and a luxury price tag attached. Tea from West India or Darjeeling? You can decide.

Yes, obtaining a trade mark is easier than obtaining a GI but the benefits of a GI are huge.

In my view, this is because these brands become synonymous with these products in a more meaningful way. This is because these brands become convincing markers in the minds of the consumer about where a product is from and how it is made.

GI marks are often applied for by Governments or by trade associations and the applications for registration of the GI is often done globally, thereby obtaining global market position.

In the past however, not all GIs have been globally accepted. One such issue has arisen in Australia where the word Prosecco has not been protected by either a trade mark or a GI.

Prosecco is a grape varietal (now known as “Glera”) and is widely grown down under. But elsewhere the product associated with the varietal has reached worldwide reknown as a product of Italy.

White wine growers in Australia are fighting off opposition from Italian growers to designate “Prosecco” as only coming from Italy. In a competing global market, this is a blow to Italian producers hoping to sell their premium product in Australia and benefit from the exclusive use of the (now incredibly popular) name.

(Interestingly enough, Prosecco is a village in Italy where the Slovenian grape varietal was originally processed into the product that has become so popular in recent times.)

The economic loss to Italian producers of prosecco in Australia cannot be understated – and is the proof of the pudding as to the economic significance of GIs to certain types of products sought worldwide.

Our IP Insight

As the World shrinks branding has never been more important for all products – but GIs now add heaps of value to particular products, whether it is fabrics, food or drink. GI’s are also protected by International Treaties and are by and large immune from disruption caused by Brexit.

As such, for exporters and producers who are seeking to navigate the increasingly complex international space – GIs offer an opportunity to, in essence, “landmark” a product on the international stage.