By King & Wood’s Trademark Group

A "geographic indication" is a sign used on a product that indicates a specific geographical origin and that the product possesses qualities or a reputation or other features that are associated with that place of origin. That is, the sign represents the geographical origin of the goods in a certain territory or area or region within the territory.  The specific quality, reputation or other features of the goods are primarily related to the place of origin.  Even if goods fall within the same category, they share a different quality and reputation due to the natural or cultural factors of different geographical origins.

The geographic indication is considered one of the most important symbols that distinguishes between goods of different origins.  The protection of geographic indications can prompt economic development in a specific area or a country, and can also protect the legal interest of the manufacturer and consumers of the goods marked with the geographic indications.  As such, the protection of geographic indications needs to be consolidated.

In China, geographic indications are primarily protected under the Trademark Law, the Provisions on the Protection of Geographical Indication Products and the Measures for Administration of Geographical Indications of Agricultural Products. The administrative authorities over geographic indications under these laws and regulations are the Trademark Office (TMO), the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and the Ministry of Agriculture of China (MOA), respectively.  Under the Trademark Law, geographic indications can be protected as collective marks or certification marks.  Applicant nationalities are not prerequisites to protection of geographic indications under the Trademark Law. However, the other two regulations are only applicable to domestic applicants in most cases.  The specific regulations do not address the protection of foreign geographical indications.  Currently, the MOA has yet to receive any application for foreign geographical indications and they would need to arrange a meeting if such an application is submitted.  The AQSIQ may grant protection for a foreign geographic indication if the country of origin provides similar protection as the AQSIQ does or the country of origin and the Chinese government have reached a consensus by signing a treaty regarding such an issue.  If the geographic indication can be protected as a trademark only in the country of origin, such request to the AQSIQ may not be accepted.  It appears that up to the end of 2010, only "Scotch whisky" and "French cognac" were granted protection as geographic indications by the AQSIQ.  Therefore, there is some difficulty in obtaining protection of foreign geographic indications in accordance with the above-mentioned two regulations in China.  However, we anticipate that this may change in the future since the three administrative authorities are seeking uniform administration over the protection of geographical indications.   (Contributed by Jiang Ying )

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