Good reason to protect names of origin

Have you ever thought what Champagne, Rooibos and Harris Tweed have in common?

Apart from being well-known names that are associated respectively with wine, tea and clothing; these names refer specifically to products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.

It is for this reason that one only indulges in Champagne when the luxury beverage actually originates from the Champagne region in France; Rooibos tea is high up on a foreigner’s bucket list when visiting South Africa, particularly the Cederberg region of the Western Cape; and fashion aficionados pay high prices for quality Harris Tweed clothing that are handwoven by islanders in Scotland.

The link between a product, its original place of production and the quality or reputation associated therewith is what is legally protected by a relevant geographical indication.

Various associations are mandated to protect recognised geographical indications worldwide, and in doing so the integrity, quality and reputation of a product as a result of its place of origin remains intact. A South African wine connoisseur therefore does not mind paying in excess of R20,000 for a Château Lafite Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, a region in France that boasts of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world.

The awareness, protection and enforcement of geographical indications does not only result in increased commercial activity due to a demand for certain products, but also a higher market price for such products as consumers are often prepared to pay more for quality assurance as a result of a product’s associated geographical reputation.

The benefits of the protection of geographical indications therefore lie for both producers and consumers, whilst stimulating tourism in the process.

The legal area concerning geographical indications also acts as a safeguard against the production and trade of like-for-like products that ride on the coattails of products that actually deserve protection. To curb against this in South Africa, by way of example, regulations have been promulgated by our Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in terms of which the use of certain geographical indications in South Africa is regulated.

South African regulations make provision against, amongst other things, the misuse, imitation or evocation of a geographical indication, including the prohibition of use of any false or misleading indication as to the origin of a liquor product. Furthermore, the South Africa wine of origin scheme makes provision for the use of certain indications in connection with the origin of wine.

By way of example, the term “wine of origin” may only be used to refer to certified wine produced solely from grapes harvested in a particular geographical unit, region, district or ward in South Africa. Therefore, where the term “wine of origin” or “W.O” is reflected in conjunction with the geographical origin Stellenbosch on a bottle of wine, a consumer is assured that that wine has been produced from grapes in Stellenbosch.

More recently, regulations have also been promulgated for the registration of geographical indications that identify agricultural products as originating in South Africa or in a foreign country, and provision has also been made for the maintenance of an electronic register in respect thereof.

The value of protecting geographical indications, both local and foreign, is therefore clearly observed by the South African government.

Beyond being well-known names, geographical indications carry tangible benefits for all involved in the global marketplace. Just think when last you purchased a product or travelled abroad, partially motivated by the reputation attributed to a desired product that may have been protected by a geographical indication!

Kim Pietersen is an associate in the trade mark enforcement department at Spoor & Fisher, Cape Town. This article was overseen by Eben van Wyk, a partner at Spoor & Fisher. This article is merely to report, not to advise. For legal advice on geographical indications, contact Spoor & Fisher.

This article was first published in Business Day Law Review.

Date published: 12 November 2019
Author: Kim Pietersen and Eben van Wyk

Tags: geographical indications