As part of Singapore's obligations under the European Union- Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA), Singapore has committed to enhancing its existing regime for the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs). A key enhancement is the establishment of a new framework to register GIs in Singapore.

Singapore's new GI Registry accepted GI applications from 1 April 2019. In particular, as part of its commitment under the EUSFTA, Singapore will recognise a list of close to 200 GIs originating from the European Union within its protection framework. Businesses in the retail and consumer space, particularly in the agricultural or food and beverage industry are encouraged to take advantage of Singapore's new GI framework to obtain registration of their GIs.

What is a GI?

In short, a GI is a sign that identifies a product as originating from a particular territory which has given the product its special quality or reputation. GIs serve as an assurance to consumers that the product which bears it possesses that specific quality, character or reputation associated with that GI. Famous GIs include Champagne wine from France, Parma ham from Italy and Darjeeling tea from India.

Major changes introduced by the new GI regime

  1. Introduction of a registration system Previously, GIs were extended protection in Singapore in accordance with the standards in the World Trade Organisation's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). The TRIPS standards did not impose a system for registration. In practice, this meant that the recognition of a GI in Singapore could only be conclusively determined through a Court application. In contrast, with a registration system, the Register itself is proof of the status of a GI and the rights which flow from registration. This provides greater certainty and transparency not only for GI holders themselves but also for all traders dealing in the same category of goods originating from different territories.
  2. Enhanced protection for agricultural products and foodstuffs Under the TRIPS standards of the old regime, with the exception of wines and spirits, a GI holder's rights were limited to situations where use of the GI by other traders would mislead the public as to the true geographical origin of the goods.

    With the new regime, registered GIs are entitled to protection against unauthorised use even if such use does not mislead the public as to the true geographic origin of the goods; this extends to all prescribed categories for which registration is accepted. The new GI regime extends protection to a wide variety of consumer products, covering beers, meats, seafood, edible/non-edible oils, fruits, cheese, spices and condiments, confectionery, baked goods, flowers, and natural gum – not merely wines and spirits.

  3. Border enforcement mechanisms for registered GIs New border enforcement legislation will entitle registered GI holders to request the Singapore Customs authorities to detain suspected infringing goods which are imported into or exported from Singapore.

Obligation to recognise GIs originating from the European Union

As part of the EUSFTA obligations, the Singapore GI Registry will recognise a list of GIs originating from the European Union within its protection framework. The list contains some 196 European GIs, including notable terms such as 'Scotch Whisky' and 'Parmigiano Reggiano' (Parmesan cheese).

Conclusion

Singapore does not have a notable agricultural industry and as such we do not expect the GI regime to significantly benefit Singapore manufacturers or producers. However, we believe the enhancement of the GI regime in Singapore will bring more vibrancy to our IP landscape. Singapore is both a cosmopolitan society and an entrepot hub; we have the consumer demand for "cosmopolitan" produce and the infrastructure to support such trade. This new robust framework for the recognition and protection of GIs could benefit players in the retail and consumer industry who have not had official recognition of their GIs in Singapore. Therefore, the time is ripe for agricultural producers and retailers – not merely those from the EU, but also those from our neighbouring countries with reputed local produce – to take advantage of our registration regime.

Concurrently, it is uncertain if this new regime will heighten conflicts between producers from different territories over the use of competing indications or claims of entitlement to the same indication. Since our firm already handled cases defending GIs in Europe, we will be able to also help defend GIs in Singapore, using our previous experiences from various cases in Europe.

With the EUSFTA obligation to recognise EU GIs, we may witness push back from other major agricultural export countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United States. Given that the registration regime is but in its infancy, it will be interesting to see how the law takes shape, and how we as a firm might have a hand in shaping it.