Trump Administration Commits to Continued Defense of Manufacturers Using Common Food Names

June 6th, 2017

A report on intellectual property issued in May by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) outlined the Trump Administration’s continuing commitment to curtailing the damaging abuses of geographical indications (GIs) by the European Union (EU). The report highlighted ongoing threats to U.S. companies that legally use common food names both within the United States and in global trade. USTR’s annual Special 301 Report outlined extensive efforts that the administration is making in numerous countries to stem the EU’s efforts to use GIs to erect barriers to U.S. exports.

In its press release on the report, USTR highlighted “the negative market access effects of the European Union’s approach to the protection of geographical indications in the EU and third-country markets on U.S. producers and traders, particularly those with prior trademark rights or who rely on the use of common food names.”

The report states that, “The EU GI agenda remains highly concerning, especially because of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of trademarks and other IP rights held by U.S. producers, and imposes barriers on market access for American-made goods and services that rely on the use of common names….”

The report summarizes U.S. goals on the issue (p. 23) to include:

  • Ensuring that the grant of GI protection does not violate prior rights (for example, in cases in which a U.S. company has a trademark that includes a place name);
  • Ensuring that the grant of GI protection does not deprive interested parties of the ability to use common names, such as parmesan or feta;
  • Ensuring that interested persons have notice of, and opportunity to oppose or to seek cancellation of, any GI protection that is sought or granted;
  • Ensuring that notices issued when granting a GI consisting of compound terms identify its common name components; and
  • Opposing efforts to extend the protection given to GIs for wines and spirits to other products.

“Many countries protect legitimate GIs, including the United States,” said Jaime Castaneda, CCFN executive director. “When properly targeted to protect unique regional products, GIs can be a useful intellectual property tool for some producers. But the EU’s approach is far from properly targeted. Rather, it is a system designed to steal commonly used names from those who built markets for those products and monopolize use of those terms in foreign and domestic markets.”

CCFN, major U.S. dairy organizations, and U.S. wine and grocery industry groups all filed comments to USTR earlier this year expressing concern with the growing threat to U.S. manufacturers of foods and beverages using common terms. Among the specific requests to the USTR: Hold trading partners accountable for their commitments, preserve market access negotiated through earlier trade agreements and prevent competitors from monopolizing widely used generic terms like feta and prosciutto (see CCFN’s comments). In addition, CCFN testified before the inter-agency hearing USTR organized in order to further underscore the importance of these issues.