Briefly, a Geographical Indication (GI) is a sign used to identify a product of a particular quality, reputation or other characteristics which is attributable to its geographical origin.
In Singapore, the Geographical Indications Act 2014 and its subsidiary legislation, the Geographical Indication Rules 2019 form the legislation governing geographical indications.
As part of Singapore’s obligations under the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, as of 1 April 2019, the Registry of Geographical Indications will come into operation. The Registry allows an entitled party to file for registration of a GI, which previously would be automatically protected if the GI is already protected in its country of origin that is a party to the Paris Convention or a member of the World Trade Organisation. An entitled person may be a person who is carrying on an activity as a producer in the geographical area specified in the application, an association of such persons or a competent authority having responsibility for a GI. Indications for wines, spirits, beers, certain agricultural products and foodstuffs can qualify for a place in the GI Registry.
Similar to what is provided for under trade mark law, the Act provides for a three-stage registration process, the first stage being the application stage; the second, the examination stage; and the third, publication/opposition stage. The Act also imports the concepts of absolute and relative grounds for refusal, whereby it may be refused on, inter alia, the grounds that it does not fall within the meaning of a GI or does not fall within the categories of a GI, it is contrary to public policy or morality, or there exists a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public because the GI is identical or similar to an earlier GI.
Prior to filing a GI application, interested entitled parties are encouraged to conduct searches to ensure that there are no existing GI or trade marks which are identical or similar. If there is a similar or identical GI or trade mark, it is possible that the application will face an objection. In light of the intertwined relationship between the trade mark and GI regimes, trade mark owners are encouraged to monitor new GI applications for any confusingly similar signs. The Act protects a registered GI from “the use of a GI in relation to any goods which did not originate in the place indicated by the GI, in a manner which misleads the public as to the GI of the goods”. It provides protection against producers from producing similar goods and labelling them with the particular name protected.
A registered GI is valid for 10 years, which can be renewed every 10 years subject to the payment of the prescribed fee.
Among other benefits, under this new regime, registered GI owners will enjoy a higher degree of protection against unauthorised exploitation of registered GIs by third parties in Singapore.