By Désirée Fields and Sam Mitchell

Geographical Indications (GIs) are signs used on products in order to inform consumers about a product’s geographical origin and a quality, characteristic or reputation of the product linked to its place of origin. GIs such as Scotch Whiskey and Parmesan cheese, have generated significant value for EU farmers and producers. Both the UK and EU are fiercely protective over GIs and, consequently, the future of GIs is an important outstanding point yet to be agreed in Brexit negotiations.

While the UK Government remains confident in its ability to broker a withdrawal agreement with the EU, it has provided some guidelines as to what might happen to GIs in the event that no deal is reached by 29 March 2019.

The Brexit White Paper established the UK Government’s initial position on GIs.  In brief, the UK intends to establish its own GI scheme, consistent with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs). It is envisaged that the scheme will provide “a clear and simple set of rules on GIs, and continuous protection for UK GIs in the UK”.  The rules are intended to mirror the current EU regime and be no more burdensome to producers.

Issues to consider in the event of a no deal scenario

The UK Government recognises that in the unlikely event of a no deal scenario, there are two issues for UK producers of GI products to consider:

  • the use of a new UK logo on products marketed in the UK; and
  • the preparation of an application for GI status in the EU, or other steps that producers may wish to take in order to protect product integrity (e.g. applying for trade mark protection)

A new UK logo

Regardless of whether the UK Government succeeds in reaching a deal with the EU, it has plans to introduce a new UK logo for GI products to replace the EU logo.  Producers of GI products wishing to use this logo will need to make preparations to comply with the new rules around use of this logo. This will be subject to consultation. The details have not yet been finalised.

EU protection of UK GIs

The UK Government anticipates that all current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes. However, in the event that current UK GIs are no longer protected by the EU’s GI schemes, the UK Government recommends UK GI holders to consider:

  • submitting applications to the EU commission for GI protection as ‘third country’ producers  (the application process being similar to that used by EU countries, with the additional need to show that the GI was protected in the UK); and
  • applying for EU Collective Marks or EU Certification Marks to protect their products.

UK GI holders should therefore proceed with caution and prepare for a “no deal” scenario. Accordingly, applying for EU Collective Marks or EU Certification Marks to protect their products would be a sensible precautionary measure to ensure continued protection UK GI holders should also consider filing an application to the EU commission to obtain GI protection as a third party.

International protection of UK GIs

The UK Government is working with its global trading partners to replicate EU free trade agreements and other sectoral agreements, including accommodating the protection of UK GIs in third countries. After March 2019, irrespective of the outcome of EU negotiations, the UK Government expects UK GIs currently named in and protected by EU free trade agreements and other sectoral agreements to remain protected.

Despite the remaining uncertainties, the UK Government’s position on the future of GIs after March 2019 sounds positive. Either way, Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Irish Poteen (GIs produced anywhere in Ireland) will continue to be fully protected in the EU and the UK; at the very least the glass is half full.