Geographical indications – is whisky ever port?

Port vs. Whisky and Geographical Indications
You may have heard of the rules governing the use of certain geographical names in products. For example, you can’t claim to sell sparkling white wine called ‘Champagne’ unless it is produced in the Champagne region of France. Another example is the Cornish Pasty. It can only be called that, if it is in fact prepared in Cornwall by an approved producer. Tough luck.

The reasons for this are to do with Geographical Indications. These are a form of intellectual property which are registered on behalf of local regions to protect the competitiveness and integrity of products for which certain regions are well known.

An interesting Geographical Indication legal case was heard before the Court of Justice of the European (CJEU) Union this month. Instituto dos Vinho do Douro e do Porto (institute of Douro and Port wine), representatives for the protected product and use of ‘Port’, had previously appealed to the General Court of the EU for a Scottish distiller’s “Port Charlotte” whisky brand in 2015. This appeal was not upheld, because the relevant consumer is not likely to associate or confuse the product with Port.

Interestingly, ‘Port’ also had national protection in Portuguese law and the latest hearing concerned the extent to which a supplementary national protection for Geographical Indications could be upheld under EU law. The decision of the CJEU was that in order to maintain the consistency of the Geographical Indication regime, decisions relating to this can only take place in the European courts, and cannot take national laws or protections into account.

More about Geographical Indications
Geographical Indications are products possessing qualities or reputation due to their origin. Different legal jurisdictions use a variety of legal processes to protect them. Should an organisation attempt to sell protected goods without the relevant permissions, they may be subject to IP infringement legal actions not limited to counterfeit (a criminal action) or passing off (a civil action) and these goods can be seized by authorities.

There are currently 3 forms of geographical indication protection in the EU.

  • Protected Designation of Origin
    This is where a product much be prepared, processed AND produced within a certain region. The product is made start to finish within a geographical region.
    Examples: Jersey Royals, Brie, Ouzo
  • Protected Geographical Indication
    Preparation or processing phase must take place within a certain region
    Examples: Cornish Pasty, Scotch Beef, Edam
  • Traditional Speciality Guaranteed
    Either the material/ingredients or production/processing method must use “traditional” methods
    Examples: Traditionally Farmed Gloucestershire Old Spots Pork

References (words are linked, open in new window):
Info on European agricultural quality policies
Summary of legal case
Judgement details

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