Enhancing the protection of Geographical Indications in Latin America

Lesly Nowak
IP expert at Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk

Spanish producers of “Turrón de Alicante” or “Sobrasada de Mallorca” fear no more! Producers of products protected under Geographical Indication in the European Union are getting closer and closer to have the protection of these Geographical Indications extended to Brazilian territory.

But what is a Geographical Indication? How can they benefit your business?

Geographical indications (GIs) are a specific Industrial Property Rights (IPRs) protecting products originating in a given geographical area whose quality or characteristics are due to a particular geographical environment (with its inherent natural and human factors) and all or part of the production steps taking place in the defined geographical area.

GIs involve regulating the already existing methods of production and traditions associated with the protected product so that only those companies producing or marketing products in compliance with the regulated standards can use the GI to distinguish their products. Unlike other categories of IPR, such as Patents (new inventions), Trademarks (new brand names) or Designs (new aesthetical characteristics), GIs do not require innovation. Instead, they tend to protect tradition (existing goods, existing methods of production and existing names of those goods) and are owned only in a collective manner.

GIs are a key tool for groups of SMEs producing local agri-food products in a defined geographical area. Indeed, consumer associate agri-foods with their place of origin and a certain guarantee of quality. In addition, their collective ownership and management (which fits with the nature of the rural and agricultural economy), the lack of innovation required and their commercial attractiveness make GIs one of the most suitable IP rights for agri-food SMEs.

In general, to register a GI you have to go through the following steps*:

1) Identify the specificity of the product, which may derive from its quality, characteristics or reputation.

2) Define the place, territory or region within which the product presents the specificity.

3) Identify the specific conditions of the geographical environment existing in the defined place, territory or region and make sure that the singularity of the product is essentially or exclusively due to those conditions.

4) Define and describe in detail the product and method of production.

5) Register the GI and enjoy the protection granted in the territory for which it has been registered.

GIs are still a sensitive subject. The first indicator is an international system of protection of GIs (Lisbon System). This system enables the applicant entity to obtain protection in several countries (as long as they are part of the Agreement) through a single application filed before the International Bureau. However, so far, this Agreement has had very limited success. In Latin America, only Cuba, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico and Peru are part of this system. As far as the EU is concern, only the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia have ratified the Agreement.

Secondly, GI owners might have to deal with the fact that Trademarks consisting of or containing the expression protected by the GI (in the country or territory of origin, e.g. the European Union) might have already been registered and/or used in connection with the same goods in third countries. Unfortunately, applicable Law in most Latin America grants priority to those earlier trademarks, unless you can prove that earlier trademarks are deceptive or were applied for in bad faith.

Thirdly, GIs protected in the EU and, consequently, identifying products originating from a specific area and complying with specific characteristics, may, however, be considered generic names in third countries (“Queso Parmesano” in Argentina, for example). In such cases, the offices of third country will deny registration of these Geographical Indications. In some cases, it is the own national legislations that assigned a generic nature to the. This is the case of the Argentinian Food Code, which assigns a generic nature to several GIs protected in the European Union, e.g.: “Turrón de Jijona”, “Turrón de Alicante”. In these cases, registration of the GI will only be possible if it is preceded by negotiations between both parties’ Governments aimed at the mutual recognition of GIs and the abolition of that regulation.

Finally, whereas producers in the EU can benefit from a single registration procedure (with unitary effects in all Member States), recognition of GIs in Latin American countries, in most cases, requires a separate procedure before each national competent authority

It is in this context that bilateral agreements, concluded between the EU and certain Latin American countries, establishing mutual recognition of GIs, become important. In particular, the EU has concluded agreements for mutual recognition of agricultural GIs with Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We can now add Brazil to this list.

Indeed, as part of the negotiations between Europe and Brazil, in the framework of the MERCOSUR-EU negotiations, the Instituto Nacional da Propiedade Industrial (INPI) published the much-awaited Normative Instruction 79/2017. Take into account that this is all the more important since Brazil is not a member of the Lisbon Agreement or the Madrid System (for GIs protected through collective trademarks or certification mark). This Instruction, from October 30, established the first basis of this publication. The list of GIs was finally published on November 7, including well-known Geographical Indications, such as “Oporto” for Portugal, the Dutch “Gouda”, the Italian “Grana Padano” or even the French “Roquefort”. The list is accessible through INPI Brazil’s website. Be aware, though, that third parties have now 30 days to submit oppositions to the registration of these GIs in Brazil and you can expect opposition.

Take into account that producers are already commercializing most of these products in Brazil. Which leads to the following questions: how will the agrifood related industries be affected? Might this then generate some friction between local producers and GI’s owners in the EU? What EU Gi’s will be next? How will these IPR going to be really enforced? The situation will certainly lead to interesting developments and we will keep you informed from the Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk.

Do you want to know how your business can benefit from Geographical Indications? Are you planning to commercialize your products in Latin America? Do you require further information on costs or proceedings before taking the decision? If so, do not hesitate to check the Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk’s Factsheets on Geographical Indications (general or on Chile).

The EU-funded initiative will provide EU SMEs (either current or potential) with first-line, business focused information on any Intellectual Property related issue in Latin America.

If you require a tailor made consultation, please do not hesitate to contact the Helpline. It is free, fast and confidential! Moreover, the IP experts will support you in English, Spanish, French, German or Portuguese.

*(Source: Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk)

Intellectual Property for SMEs: 6 common errors

Having their own business is a yearning for many employees tired of a working life that does not fill anything else than their bank account. They endure frustrations and abuses for a not always decent salary, and feed their dream with the massive DIY-tools that the Internet provides.

More than a few are eventually convinced by the siren calls of tempting opportunities offered by the digital world to exploit an idea in a profitable way with no (or less) tangible means and leap into the void without a second thought.

In order to prevent your savings, hair and other valuable resources to be wiped out by a temporary insanity, we are listing some of the most common Intellectual Property (IP) – related mistakes Start-Ups make too often and that you must avoid if you want to succeed.

1. Poor knowledge of the sector

Working at Disneyland is not the same as visiting it. Likewise, being a (more or less specialized) consumer does not give you a complete picture of the sector. It’s key to know the internal mechanisms.

Given that experience is the best teacher, during the initial stages you’d overcome this deficiency with a deeper prior analysis and better planning.

However, many start-ups embrace adventure without being aware of the frequency or speed of technological developments in the sector, where to find new opportunities for growth or licensed-technology, or what patents are relevant to their products.

In other words, they do not know what Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are needed to operate and its availability.

In regard to the first, sectorial guides (i.e. Machinery and IP in Mercosur and Chile) may help you to identify the relevant IPR to your case and understand why and when should them be protected (i.e. a graphic designer would need to know more about copyrights and trademarks, and pay less or no attention to patents).

In regard to the second, “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good IP policy, since not knowing the law does not allow you not to obey it. Other’s IPR infringement may take place though you did not want to. You’d better check the trademarks, patents or copyrights owned by your competitors to avoid it.

Thanks to that, you’d not only escape a costly legal proceeding, but you’d have a deeper knowledge on how innovative you are and be able to adapt your commercial strategy.

Performing a prior search is hence indispensable. Unfortunately, you cannot always access comprehensive, reliable, free-of-charge databases that can be easily handled by the average user.

The solution calls for expert advice.

2. Fail to identify IPR and deficient valuation

The idea that inspires a different business’ birth tends to be unique to the father’s eyes.

Nonetheless, just a few know exactly what part can be protected (i.e. technical feature, aesthetical aspect, name, information itself, etc.) and how is it given material form. No, the answer is not always “patent”.

You can also find utility models, designs, trademarks, trade secrets or copyrights, among others. Generally speaking, commercialization of a new product involves many IPR simultaneously. For example, the technology used by Goretex (registered trademark) was patented and the shoes appearing on the catalogues and brochures (protected by copyright) have been previously registered as designs.

Though, if you think that IP is only for technology-based or big companies, you are wrong. Any company has some potential (or current) IPR.

In fact, all companies daily work with intangibles that could be protected as IPR –and, thus, be exploited-, but have no clue about it.

Your company or product name can be registered as a trademark and reach an incredible value. If you don’t believe me, you’d better check Forbes’ rank of the 10 most valuable trademarks.

If you are not aware of what you have in your hands, you can hardly assess its value properly and protect it accordingly. This error can cost you dear if we bear in mind that for most Start-Ups, IPR often represent the most important asset of the company.

3. Bad timing

Sadly, IP protection is way too common done as an after-thought or be left for a later stage.

Thus, many entrepreneurs figure out that the innovative product on which the business project is based cannot be patented anymore, either because:

  • Since they began to develop it until they finally were ready to launch it, it has been too long and in the meantime other company applied for similar patents (first-to-file wins, remember?); or
  • They disclosed it (via online or at a trade fair) and it is not new anymore. Many Latin-American countries do provide a grace period for patents, but you need to know which and its requirements.

Those of them who’d rather release the product and protect it depending on its success can be committing IP offenses unknowingly. At best, the product was really innovative and they could face any of the mentioned scenarios.

The same situation may be seen as respect to the trademark. Before naming your company or product, be sure that it is available in your countries of interest (think internationally!). Otherwise, you’d have to choose a new name or be forced to negotiate with the right holder (i.e. the “iphone” trademark dispute between Gradiente and Apple that took place in Brazil was a good example).

Usually, the first to apply for its registration gets the exclusive right (first-to-file principle). But some Latin-American countries have a different regulation. Hence, it is recommended to be assisted by specialized professionals from the beginning and have a case-by-case approach.

On the other hand, there are some opportunities that apparently cannot be missed. However, a trade fair or a meeting with a promising client can be a double-edge sword. You’d better calm down and perform a good search and design -supported by an IP expert preferably- involving all the relevant parts (e.g. designers and marketing team).

4. Ownership: absence of clarity and awareness

Creative processes tend to be convulsed and it’s hard to distinguish who created what and in which proportion (particularly, when ideas arise from brain storming or daily work).

Moreover, when you deal with external providers or a team, many of them do not know who is the real owner of the work. The assignment rules are usually contained in the IP regulation and the employment or project contract. This is why you must pay attention to its content and try to clarify rights and obligations of each part and adapt them to your needs before your start working.

In this regard, many disputes arise when the employee thinks that everything he/she creates belongs to him/her (while it tends to be the other way around).

For this purpose, a well-drafted contract is crucial. Be as much specific as possible and try to think on the most -and less, but harmful- likely scenarios and include a clause for that.

Start-Ups rarely avoid application of knowledge gained from the company they previously worked for or achieved the final result without using its means (although it was during their leisure time).

This is of central importance when you are looking for funding or partnership (ascertaining the correct IPR assignment is one of the key points of any due diligence conducted by investors to give the green light) or when license agreements are signed.

At internal level, it is equally important that the rest of the company members know the scope of the IPR they work with (i.e. what countries are covered, can it be modified for an online campaign, is there a limit to the number of licenses, what happens with any improvement on it). For-profit use of open source technology or under for personal use only license; inclusion of copyright-protected works without permission in catalogues or social networks; or utilization of patented technology without realizing it, are some of the most common errors and can be prevented with an active IP awareness policy by trainings like those provided by the Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk.

5. Lack of (or improvised) protection strategy

The absence of a clear short/medium term IP strategy is a serious handicap to the business project’s success –or event survival-. It’s impossible to identify the needed tools to achieve the objectives if they are not well defined.

Moreover, many entrepreneurs underestimate the importance of own and other’s IPR or overrate the power of a registered IPR (patents to not enforce themselves automatically: you have to negotiate with infringers or start legal actions). Additionally, some businessmen forget that IPR also entail certain obligations (i.e. trademarks’ obligation use was set to avoid defensive registrations in many Latin-American countries).

As a result, they find themselves:

  • with weak IPR to save money in legal assistance
  • with IPR that they don’t use; or
  • forced to request lawyer’s support to solve a non-registration related problem

Notwithstanding, the vast majority of the mentioned mistakes so far can be prevented with correct planning.

Or, to put in other way, you have to invest in IP and avoid relying upon improvisation.

Do not forget that the IP strategy must be aligned with the business strategy (and not vice versa). Short, medium and long term must be taken into account, too; and plans must be regularly updated and suited to change.

6. Who needs a lawyer?

You can find many infinite templates, examples and tutorials on how to elaborate your own agreements across the Internet. As a matter of fact, it is really tempting to take four of them and adapt them to your case –at high risk of copy-paste abuse-.

The so termed Frankenstein effect is one of the most frequent errors, given the high cost of legal assistance and low awareness of the importance of a well-drafted contract (in particular when no problem arose).

It must be however noted that IP is a very complex matter, that varies a lot from country to country, and that an in-house lawyer (if the company has one) -that already deals with tax or sales legal issues- can hardly ensure a high level of efficiency.

Although most of the entrepreneurs are used to do it all by themselves, they must know their limits, be wise and delegate to experts (when needed).

Do not forget that if you trust a lawyer from the beginning, you can save a lot of money (fixing the mess created can be two or three times more expensive).

Indeed, the Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk was created in response to all those EU SMEs that want (and must) to know more about IP and how to use it as a profitable business tool, in particular when they operate in Latin America –or are intending to do it-.

Moreover, some of the mentioned trainings (and much more) are explained in depth in the training sessions they organize (i.e. Start-Ups in Latin America: Most Common IP errors).

Nonetheless, when the problem you have is beyond your knowledge –gained thanks to the E-learning documents and trainings offered by the Helpdesk-, you could always use the Helpline. All any of its services, it is free-of-charge and totally confidential.

Furthermore, it is available in 5 different languages (English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese) and the experts provide first-line assistance within 3 working days.

For further information, you can check their website www.latinamerica-ipr-helpdesk.eu.

International IPR SME Helpdesks Stakeholders Meeting

The China, Latin America and South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesks are holding their Annual Stakeholder Meeting in Brussels on the 4th of April 2017. Joining the three regional Helpdesks as a co-organiser is Business Beyond Borders (BBB), an EU-funded initiative supporting businesses and clusters when attending international trade fairs around the world.

As a valued partner and user of the Helpdesk services, we are delighted to invite you to this event where you will hear about our latest developments, success stories and planned activities for 2017. To register and access the detailed agenda, please click here.

The event will include the participation of complementary key EU initiatives that are all supporting EU SMEs in their internationalisation efforts, as well as various intermediaries and companies. They will all contribute to the interactive panel- and roundtable discussions and will be available for the matchmaking session.

Similar to previous editions, the meeting will be a key opportunity to have your say on the services of the Helpdesks and join discussions on what can be done towards its continuous improvement in terms of support to businesses and collaboration with partner organisations and experts.

THE MATCHMAKING SESSION

The Matchmaking Session will take place at the end of the Annual Stakeholder Meeting place on the 4thof April from 15.00pm – 17.00pm. The dedicated area is located in the premises of the European Economic and Social Committee – Rue Belliard 99-101, 1000 Brussels.

It will be a great opportunity to interact with a wide variety of stakeholders of pertinence to IPR and SME internationalisation. As a company you will get the chance to have your questions answered by relevant experts.

Attendees will include European SMEs with an interest in expanding their business abroad as well as companies already established in, or working with business entities overseas with specific focus on China, Latin America and South East Asia. The presence of business support organisations and other EU supported schemes focusing on internationalisation, makes this an event you simply cannot miss!

Following the Matchmaking Session there will be a Networking Cocktail, to conclude the day.

We look forward to welcoming you on the 4th of April!

Intellectual Property is an intangible with significant economic potential

“Chile has built a balanced property system that seeks to protect the interests of creators and innovators, as well as users and society as a whole,” says Martin Correa, Head of the Intellectual Property Department of the General Directorate of International Economic Relations (Direcon) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Department coordinates and conveys Chile’s position on international negotiations before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Intellectual Property is precisely the focus of the Latin America Intellectual Property SME Helpdesk project, which belongs to the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (COSME Program) of the European Union. The Eurochile Foundation is a partner of this project.

The subject is highly relevant, since a wider knowledge and respect for intellectual property rights leads to improved opportunities for Chilean companies.

“Today, IP has been gaining importance, since it has been proven that it may be an intangible with a significant economic potential not only for consolidated and larger companies, but also for small and medium enterprises. In this sense, knowing the value of IP enables SMEs to value their trademarks and generate spin-offs when granting licenses,” states Correa.

“Additionally, having an invention patent, for example, can be a plus when applying for loans to continue the development of an SME or even for expanding. Finally, IP can encourage the sale of traditional niche products by granting geographical indications. They create communities among small producers of the same product by recognizing its added value. As you can see, being aware and knowing the economic potential of IP can allow SMEs to make better business decisions and to benefit from the profits IP can generate,” he adds.

– What is the state of Intellectual Property protection in Chile?

“The country has made great strides in recent years, introducing major changes to the intellectual property system, such as the enactment of Law 17,336 on Intellectual Property, the reform of Law 19,039 on Industrial Property and the creation of the National Industrial Property Institute (Inapi, in Spanish). There has also been progress in creating tools to bring people closer to IP through programs such as the origin seal and Inapi Proyecta, as well as in boosting the role of the intellectual rights keeper belonging to the Chilean Libraries, Archives and Museums Board (Dibam, in Spanish).”

– What are the pending issues in this regard?

“Chile has a strong intellectual property system with clear and strict rules, comparable to the standards of major international institutions that cover these issues, such as the WTO and the WIPO. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that new technologies and recent innovations in the digital environment pose new challenges not only for Chile, but for the international community. It should address the interaction between IP and these new developments.”

– What is Chile’s level of compliance regarding international agreements and obligations on this matter?

“Chile has fulfilled its international obligations on intellectual property. In this sense, the current institutional framework in Chile reflects the standards described in our free trade agreements (FTA). It even went beyond what was agreed on the FTAs. However, there are still some issues to be addressed internally, derived mainly from the FTA with the US. One example is complying with technological protection measures linked to copyright, which has not been addressed yet. Therefore, Direcon’s efforts have been instrumental in coordinating thematic working tables to address this issue internally in the near future.”

– What are the most common problems for a foreign company wishing to do business with Chile, in terms of IP?

“Even though the rules on intellectual property in Chile are relatively similar to those in most developed countries, there are some differences that must be taken into consideration when doing business. They have to do with the territorial nature of IP. In this regard, it is important to be aware of certain basics, such as the civilian origin of Chile’s legal tradition and the balance of our system when pondering the interests of creators and innovators, and the interests of users and society as a whole. They differ in each country. Therefore, it is indispensable to learn about the system as a whole in order to enjoy the economic benefits of IP in all its dimensions.”

Registering your trademark in Latin America through Madrid System

When an SME wants to register an IPR in different countries there are two alternatives, to apply for the IPR before each national office or to use one of the WIPO international registration systems, namely Madrid System (trademarks), Patent Cooperation Treaty (patents) and Hague System (Designs).

In this post we are going to explain how Madrid System can be a useful tool for EU SMEs that aim to protect their trademarks abroad, benefiting from simpler and cost-effective proceedings.

The Madrid System is not implemented in most Latin American countries. Nevertheless, this situation is expected to change in the near future, therefore EU companies that want to internationalise to Latin America may be interested in registering its trademark through Madrid System on the current members (Colombia, Cuba and Mexico) and hopefully, extend the protection to further members once them enter into the system. madrid-system

What is Madrid System?

Madrid System is the WIPO International Trademark Registration system governed by the Madrid Protocol and Agreement. It allows trademark applicants to apply for registration in various countries simultaneously with a single application.

Who can benefit from the system?

Any national or company from a Member State of the Protocol or the Agreement. All EU Member States have ratified the Protocol.

In which Latin American countries could I apply from protection through Madrid System?

Only a few Latin American countries (Colombia, Cuba and Mexico) are members of the Madrid System.

How does it work?

EU applicants can request an International Trademark Registration before their own national IP office or the EUIPO (Office of Origin). The International application must be based on a prior trademark application or registration (both EU and national trademarks are accepted).

Thereafter the Office of Origin submits the application to WIPO, that performs the formal examination, publishes it on the WIPO Gazette of International Marks, and send it to each national IP office where the applicant want to protect the trademark (Designated Party).

IMPORTANT! Each national office is entitled to perform the substantive examination according to its internal regulation and to reject or register the trademark within 12 months (Cuba) or 18 months (Colombia and Mexico). In case of third parties oppositions, the term in Colombia to reject the trademark might be extended.

Once the trademark is registered in all or some of the countries the renewal and modifications are centralised by WIPO and you can manage it as a single registration.

How much does it cost?la-logo

It strongly depends on the number of countries, the type of trademark and the number of classes for which protection is sough.

We strongly recommend you to check the useful International Application Simulator and Fee calculator offered by WIPO on its website.

What are the main advantages?

Madrid applicants may benefit from certain advantages over those that prefer to register on a country-by-country basis:

  • The trademark is applied for in a single language: English, Spanish or French, without the need of further translations.
  • Applicants benefit from a simplified application proceeding instead filing a bundle of applications before each national office.
  • Each due fee is paid in a single currency (Swiss francs) and a single payment.
  • Any modification, renewal or transfer can be done directly before WIPO with effects in all Designated Parties.
  • As a general rule, it is not mandatory to appoint and pay a representative on each Designated Party except in certain cases (e.g. the trademark is opposed)
  • Once registered, it is possible to extend the International Trademark protection to other countries by means of subsequent designations. This is very useful if the company wants to enter into new markets or if a new Latin American country in which the SME operates enters Madrid System.

Want to know more?

Contact our Helpline!