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Post #7 of our Top 10 of IP in 2020

In negotiations between Australia and the European Union for a Free Trade Agreement, the EU has provided a list of geographic indications for food produce and spirits that it seeks to have protected in Australia.  If adopted, only products that actually hail from the relevant regions or places will be able to use those names.  This is sure to stir local debate about what counts as Feta cheese, similar to past debates about use of the name “Champagne”.  

Cheeses are heavily featured in the EU list, including Feta (Greece), Gouda (Netherlands), Gorgonzola (Italy), Roquefort (France).  There are also other products including sausages, cured meats, spices, fruits.

Australia currently protects geographic indications for wine, through the Wine Australia Act 2013.  Some other geographic indications may also be protected by specific collective trade marks.  

If Australia is to expand protection to other items arising from an A-EUFTA, the government has indicated that it would so via introducing a new geographic indication regime into the Trade Marks Act, likely to protect not only EU geographic indications, but Australian and other international ones too. 

Accordingly, IP Australia held a consultation process, closing at the end of November 2020, to seek stakeholders’ views.  A response to the consultation will be released some time in 2021.  

Australian producers may need to reconsider how to market feta-style cheese (for want of a better term…), but on the flip side, may also start considering whether Australian agribusiness and producers would benefit from protecting the name and reputation for quality produce of various regions around Australia.

It’s also worth noting that Article 11.29 of the Intellectual Property chapter of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement signed on 15 November 2020 requires signatory countries to ensure “adequate and effective means to protect geographical indications”.  The RCEP agreement has been signed by 15 countries, being the ASEAN nations together with Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.  Although too soon to have been ratified, this itself will see an obligation for Australia to act on this, and over time, we may also start to see non-European geographic indications also.

If there is to be an A-EUFTA, it seems almost certain that it will require more general protection of geographic indications.  Timing on reaching a concluded FTA is unknown, but in anticipation, sectors likely to be affected or likely to be beneficiaries ought to start strategic planning now.  This means producers, importers, exporters, and those promoting tourism and hospitality in regions around the country. ☁︎

2020 has seen a very healthy amount of activity in intellectual property law in Australia.  In no particular order, my Top 10 of 2020 series of posts contains my top ten things in IP from the year, and what they might mean for 2021. 

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