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Place names identifying the origin of a product (geographical indications)

What are geographical indications?

Place names that identify the origin of a product are called 'geographical indications'. While not strictly an intellectual property right, they sometimes resemble trademarks.

When a geographical indication is available and used in relation to a product, it indicates the origin of the product, and communicates to a consumer the quality, reputation or other characteristics of products from that geographical origin.

Often, for a product to be permitted to be branded as a geographical indication, it must do more than originate from the geographical region. In addition, it must meet certain minimum quality, or ingredient, production, or other requirements.

Examples of geographical indications

There are many examples of geographical indications from all over the world.

ProductGeographical region associated with that productQuality, reputation or other characteristic that is protected
Scotch whisky Scotland The reputation and quality of Scottish whiskies
Bohemian crystal The Bohemia region within the Czech Republic The reputation of crystal manufactured in the region
Camembert cheese Town of Camembert in Normandy, France The reputation and distinctiveness of this soft cheese
Darjeeling tea Darjeeling region of West Bengal, India The reputation and distinctiveness of this tea

In Australia, some examples of geographical indications are:

ProductGeographical region associated with that productQuality, reputation or other characteristic that is protected
Bundaberg rum Bundaberg, Queensland The reputation of this producer
Australian wine A specific wine growing region such as the
Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River, etc.
The reputation of each respective wine growing region
King Island cheese King Island in the Bass Strait The reputation of cheeses from this cheese producer
Bega cheese Town of Bega in New South Wales The reputation of cheeses from producers in this region

How are geographical indications protected in Australia?

In Australia, geographical indications are protected by:

  • specific legislation
  • certification trademarks
  • consumer protection laws.

Specific legislation

Pursuant to international treaties and agreements to which Australia is party, specific legislation in Australia regulates the use of both Australian and foreign geographical indications in relation to wine.

It is an offence therefore, if a seller, exporter or importer of wine sells, exports, or imports it with a false description.

A description will be false, for example, if it:

  1. indicates that wine originated in Australia or another country, when it did not originate in the indicated country
  2. indicates a registered geographical indication, when it did not originate from the geographical region associated with that registered geographical indication.

In each case, a criminal offence is committed.

Certification trademarks

A certification trademark can be applied for, owned and used much like ordinary trademarks.

The purpose of the certification trademark is to indicate that a product or service is certified as having met a specific standard. The standard that it is required to meet could relate to its quality, its content, the method by which it is made, or its geographical origin.

The following table includes examples of certification trademarks that indicate geographical origin.

ProductGeographical region associated with that productQuality, reputation or other characteristic that is protected
Australian wool Australia New wool product made from Australian wool
Various food products branded with the distinctive 'Product of Australia' logo Australia All of the product's significant ingredients come from Australia; and all of nearly all of the manufacturing or processing is also carried out in Australia
Parma ham Town of Parma, Italy Distinctive recipe for this ham from this region
Darjeeling tea Darjeeling region of West Bengal, India The reputation and distinctiveness of the tea

Consumer protection laws

The Australian Consumer Law makes it unlawful for a person to:

  • engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive, or
  • make false or misleading representations.

A person engages in misleading and deceptive conduct if, for example, the person makes a statement in trade or commerce that is misleading or deceiving or likely to mislead or deceive.

Accordingly, making a claim that a product has a certain origin, when that is not the case, is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive, and contrary to the Australian Consumer Law.

It can also be a false or misleading representation.

That will be so, whether the origin that is incorrectly claimed is an Australian origin, or an overseas origin.

Contravention can lead to:

  • damages (paying monetary compensation)
  • an injunction (an order that certain conduct stop)
  • in some circumstances, a fine (pecuniary penalty)
  • other orders.