What have in common the enchanting Lisbon, the international Geneva and our Bel Paese? Probably not much, except for being all part of our beloved Old Continent. But recently, these three places have been mentioned for some important news regarding the food industry.

  • The Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications

On 20 May 2015, a Diplomatic Conference at the WIPO in Geneva adopted a new Act which revised and expanded the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration.

“Appellations of origin” are geographical names that identify a product originating therein, whose quality and characteristic are due exclusively or essentially to the geographical environment.

The Lisbon Agreement, signed in 1958, offers a means of obtaining protection for an appellation of origin (AO) through a single registration process (administered by the International Bureau of WIPO), and ensures that in all contracting States, appellations of origin receive protection when they are protected in their Country of origin. As of today, 28 states, including of course Italy, are party to the agreement and 1000 appellations of origin have been registered so far; about 100 of them are Italian.

Some examples of Italian appellations of origin registered under the Lisbon Agreement are: Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Pomodoro di Pachino, Brunello di Montalcino.

The Geneva Act now allows the international registration of geographical indications (GIs), in addition to appellations of origin.

A “geographical indication” is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. It is similar to an appellation of origin, but requires less stringent criteria for usage since the link with the place of origin is less strong. Appellations of origin can be therefore considered a special kind of GIs.

Another important change introduced by the Geneva Act concerns safeguards for prior trademark rights. Where the law of a contracting State provides that a prior trademark may not entitle its owner to prevent a registered appellation of origin or geographical indication from being granted protection or used in that contracting State, they shall coexist. On the contrary, a prior registration of an AO or a GI shall prevent a subsequent  registration of the sign as a trademark.

  • “The Extraordinary Italian Taste”

A few days after the adoption of the Geneva Act, the Italian Government presented at EXPO Milan “The Extraordinary Italian Taste”, a trademark that – according to a statement from the Italian Ministry of Agriculture – shall be used to distinguish Italian food products at an international level and will help to challenge the so called “Italian sounding”, i.e. foreign-made goods that cash in on Italian food’s fame and popularity by using names that make them sound Italian (e.g. Parmesan).

Click here to view image.

“The Extraordinary Italian Taste” has no legal link with GIs and AOs, although it shares with them the purpose to identify the geographical origin of a product and the qualitative link between the product and its place of origin.

It is not even a “collective trademark”, i.e. a trademark registered by associations and used to distinguish the goods and services of their members pursuant the associations regulations.

It is something different that should not overlap with any of the abovementioned rights. This is because – differently from other similar trademarks as the famous Swiss flag displayed on chocolates and cheeses – it won’t be used on single products.

As a part of a wider special plan for the internationalization of the Italian products (“Decreto Sblocca Italia”), it is an “umbrella” trademark (an Italian trademark application has already been filed), owned by the Italian Trade Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture that will serve to identify  Italian food products in international exhibitions, and will also be used for promotional and in-store activities abroad, in communication campaigns on TV, traditional media, the Internet and social media. See this video for a nice presentation of the trademark.

Will these initiatives serve to protect the uniqueness of Italian – and not only – food products and to protect consumers from deceptive initiatives? Hopefully yes, but it will be interesting to see how they will develop in the next months.