Forging a Balanced Approach to GI Protections

November 30th, 2020

COVID-19 restrictions meant that CCFN couldn’t make the trip in person to Geneva for the Assemblies of the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) 61st series of meetings in September. Instead, we participated virtually, delivering an oral statement and submitting comments for the record reaffirming our commitment to working alongside WIPO to address unbalanced approaches to GI policies in markets around the world. These comments echoed some of the issues raised in a letter we sent to Daren Tang that month, welcoming him as the new WIPO Director General, and expressing our interest to working together on these complex but critical issues.

CCFN’s comments also flagged challenges in the implementation of the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin (AOs) and Geographical Indications (GIs) of 2015, which took effect in February 2020.

As CCFN Senior Director Shawna Morris noted in an article for the International Trademark Association (INTA), varying approaches to implementation could undermine safeguards that protect the rights of users of generic terms, as well as GI holders, and put their rights at risk.

“Fair and equitable application of intellectual property (IP) protections is critical to maintaining the necessary balance in IP systems to respect both the rights of new applicants—in this case GI and AO holders—as well as the rights of trademark owners and users of generic terms,” Morris wrote. “An equitable process will set a global precedent that strengthens the integrity of IP systems.”

INTA’s GI Committee has responded by providing recommendations and useful guidance as to how the Geneva Act may be implemented to appropriately meet its goals. At the WIPO in Switzerland, CCFN leveraged its WIPO observer status and its relationship with INTA by making a brief intervention at the Working Group on the Development of the Lisbon [GI] System. Frank Hellwig, a GI expert acting on behalf of CCFN, reminded the working group of the need for a balanced implementation of GI regimes, including the protection of generic terms in the process.

Hellwig also presented the views of CCFN at an INTA webinar related to the implementation of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin. Hellwig spoke strongly regarding the importance of preventing the monopolization of generic terms as GI regimes are implemented.