What have products like Marmo di Carrara and Vetro Murano have in common with foodstuffs like Prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico di Modena? They are both geographical indications or names which link a specific product with a specific origin. What makes them  different? Geographical Indications for foodstuffs are protected under European law, while geographical indications for non foodstuffs or industrial products are not protected under EU law. Should we keep this difference? Especially when it can be seen that difference is not simply a question of laws. It's also hard economics. And it's a social issue too.

Protection tends to put more money in your pocket. A study for the European Commission of the value of registration as a GI in the foodstuffs sector from October 2012 shows that products registered as GIs have, on average, a premium rate of 2.23. This means that registered GIs were sold at 2.23 times the price as the same quality products that were not registered. This premium rate is an average figure across all GIs and therefore individual products will have a bigger or lesser premium rate depending on a range of factors. However the study clearly shows that all products benefit in some way.

If these are the economic benefits in the food sector why not allow them for the industrial sector. In other words, why do we discriminate against industrial geographical indications? The most common answer is that industrial production is different from food production. The basic idea is Industrial production can be moved anywhere whereas the qualities of foods are linked to the terrain and the climate of the place of origin and cannot be moved. We are very familiar with this linkage in relation to wines or whiskeys or cheeses. But on close examination this difference does not hold up. For two reasons.

First. One of the important features of geographical indications even in the food sector is not so much the link to climate and terrain but the link to the people and traditional means by which those people made the product. The protection of Aceto Balsamico di Modena is as much about protecting the traditional way of making Aceto Balsamico in Modena than about the terrain or climate in Modena. What is being protected is the reputation of the product that is traditionally made in Modena.

Second. Marmo di Carrara is not less linked to the terrain than is prosciutto di Parma or wine from Chianti. The marmo that is mined in Carrara is inherently linked to Carrara, not to any other geographical origin. It is essentially a terrain linked geographical indication.

The idea of geographical indications as applied to foodstuffs includes both types of links between the product and the origin. Links that are based on terroir and climate and links that are based on reputation. It can be the same for industrial products as the Carrara example shows. That being said it is likely that for many industrial products the link is more likely to be on the basis of reputation. But it's the same for food as the example of Aceta di Balsamico di Modena shows. And both international and EU law recognises the importance of reputation. So there seems no reason not to extend the protection to industrial products.

This brings us to the social aspect of geographical indications. The reputation that links a product to a place is often the result of the efforts of many people over long periods of time. In that sense the reputation is a collective reputation belonging to the community in the place of origin. The community of workers, of investors, of consumers. Geographical indications law allows the capturing and the protection of that reputation. GIs are not like trade marks owned by one individual or company. GIs are not owned at all in that sense. They are a recognition by the state of a reputation that is worth protecting. Anyone who respects the traditions can use the name. It's a community issue, not an exclusivity issue.

The question of whether to extend the protection of GIs from foodstuffs to industrial products is on the decision making agenda in Brussels. The European Commission financed a study on the issue. The study concluded that extension would be a good idea. Now the Commission is taking the issue a step further. It has opened a Public Consultation and has invited interested parties to respond by 28 October. There are 45 questions each introduced by a background explanation as to why the question is relevant.

You may not be interested in the details. But you should be interested in the idea. Europe needs to protect its manufacturing traditions and culture in exactly the same way it already protects its food and agri Culture.