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Saturday, 5 April 2008

GIs for food products

Geographical Indications For Food Products: international, legal and regulatory perspectives is the title of a fascinating book by Marsha A. Echols this February by Kluwer Law International. Ms Echols (right), apart from being Professor of Law at Howard University, Washington DC, is Director of the World Food Law Institute -- which sounds like the sort of responsibility that means having to eat lots of aeroplane meals.

The publisher's blurb:

"Geographical indications (GIs) for food—and other names that connote a characteristic or process together with origin—fit in with notions of quality, tradition, and support for local producers that are important for the producers, for an increasing number of consumers, and for local development. Although there are many costs and administrative commitments associated with the use of these names, they can fill a growing consumer demand and a community need, and many localities and nations are turning toward them. However, in attempting to prevent the use of ‘culture’ for protectionist purposes, the World Trade Organization (WTO) treats geographical indications, like trademarks, as private rights. This affirmation—which runs counter to the traditional view that a GI is a communal right—lies at the root of a legal stand-off at the WTO between two groups of countries.

Focusing primarily on the Reports of the Panels in the WTO disputes brought by Australia and the United States against the European Communities, this important book explores the meaning of the TRIPS Article 22 and Article 24 commitments, especially as they concern the definition of the term ‘geographical indication’ and national and most favored nation treatment. The author clarifies the relationship between niche-market geographical indications and the more prevalent (and commercially valuable) trademarks. With no sacrifice of depth, she covers a wide range of issues such as the following:

• estimates of the value added by origin and tradition;

• procedures followed by the European Communities;

• minimum standards of protection under TRIPS;

• the significance of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade;

• administrative and procedural rules at WTO and national levels;

• the Codex Alimentarius and WTO Agreements;

• the role of the TRIPS Council; and

• proposals for the Doha Development Agenda.

Left: this miserably teeny weeny little thing is the best the publishers can do in terms of putting a cover illustration on their website.

As a detailed analysis and interpretation of the Article 22 definition as it exists within the context of an agreement on private property and the WTO market access goals, this book is of crucial importance to an adequate understanding of the trade rules that apply to the recognition, protection and enforcement of geographical indications and competing names. It is sure to be of great value to anyone concerned with this specialized field, whether practitioners, jurists, officials, policymakers, or academics".

What the IPKat says:
"This book makes a welcome and serious contribution to the discussion of the subject. The question whether GIs are 'private', 'public', 'communal', 'shared' or anything else is not just a legal one but a socio-political one. The US and Europe have clashed vigorously over the rationale for GI protection, while the US and Europe are on the same side in the argument with much of the rest of the world as to the availability and use of GI protection as a market tool. This book provides much helpful information and analysis that will enrich the reader's understanding of the complex and often contradictory strands from which the current debates are woven".
On the presentational side, the IPKat particularly liked the convenience of bibliographies at the end of each chapter in addition to the footnotes. On the principle of "you are what you eat", it's easier to appreciate each chapter when you can see at a glance what reading materials and sources have influenced it.

Bibliographic data: ISBNs 9041125485 and ISBN 13: 9789041125484. Hardcover, x + 315 pages. Rupture factor: low. Price in the UK, £89. Link to this book's page on the Kluwer website here.

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