28 February, 2017

Pretty Cheesed - Will GIs Remain Protected in the UK After Brexit?

With the impending Brexit launch date looming in only two months, the repercussions of the UK's possible decision to leave the EU casts a shadow over nearly every aspect of the law in the country. While the nuances of its effects remain largely unclear at this moment, despite the government's white paper published earlier this month, and this leads to a wealth of speculation, even in the field of IP law. This writer recently came across the article below by the Guardian that discussed Brexit's impact on geographical indications (more on which here), and clearly, there could be some interesting issues presented should this not be resolved during the negotiations.

By way of exposition, Geographical Indicators (including PGIs and PDOs for the sake of simplicity) protect the specific origins or specifications of goods in the EU, allowing only those who comply with the specifications of a given GI to use the name in conjunction with their product (i.e. acting as a form of provenance of legitimacy). For example, Parmigiano Reggiano and Feta can only be used for cheeses that follow the specifications, i.e. have been produced in a particular region using particular milk. These are protected, among international treaties, under the GI Directive.

What remains interesting is that over 60 British products, such as Stilton blue cheese and the Cornish Pasty, will remain protected under EU law even after the UK's departure from the EU (as no membership is required); unless the Union will amend its laws or simply rescind protection for UK GIs.

Peter was unsure what to do with
all of his faux "parmesan" after Brexit
On the flip-side of this conundrum, all of the EU GIs would be free to be used in the UK, provided that the legislation that remains does not reflect the EU position as it was prior to Brexit. Even though individuals could make Birmingham "Champagne" or Newcastle "Parma Ham", the goods would not be allowed to enter the EU market (or those with reciprocal agreements with the EU, such as Canada under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Internal competition in the UK could lead to branding issues for GIs, but it seems unlikely that many domestic producers would willingly go against prior practice and laws.

An additional twist to the tale are the various conventions that the UK is party to, including the TRIPS Agreement and Madrid Agreement, would still remain in force, protecting GIs in the UK outside of EU legislation.

Although Brexit will present its challenges to the UK and EU economies, this writer doubts that GIs will be an issue, and that business will continue as usual, with protection being extended to GIs both in the UK and the EU. Reciprocal protection will most likely be extended to intellectual property rights in negotiations, or at least conversions, where needed, would be provided to those wishing to retain their rights, and equivalent legislation will nonetheless have to be introduced as a part of international obligations outside of the EU.

The hypothetical scenario of a lawless GI landscape in the UK is an entertaining one, but is very much a near impossibility should the UK want to remain relevant in the global market.

Source: The Guardian

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