Proposed EU Geographical Indications Rules Could Undermine U.S. Trademark System

WASHINGTON -- Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee, the Grocery Manufacturers of America on Monday opposed European efforts to restrict the use of geographical indications (GIs) for foods, and explained new GI rules could undermine established international trademark rules.

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review GIs and their impact on World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

European Union trade negotiators currently are pushing to expand protections for GIs to include food products as a requirement to move forward on agricultural trade negotiations during the September WTO Ministerial.

Many of the GIs that could be reclaimed for exclusive use by European producers are products commonly made by many U.S. and international food manufacturers under a wide variety of trademarked names, including parmesan, cheddar, feta, dijon, and pilsner.

In its testimony, the GMA explained that the new proposal would cancel existing product trademarks without regard to who had established the market for the product.

"The European proposals could lead to the weakening of trademark protections that are so vital to our companies," testified GMA director of international trade Sarah Thorn.

"Under EU proposals, trade negotiators would be given the ability to pick and choose arbitrarily which products would be granted globally enforceable naming rights," said Thorn, "Moreover, pre-existing trademarks could be canceled outright with no legal redress for the trademark holder."

The GMA's testimony also outlined the value of trademark-protected brand names for its member companies. According to Thorn, companies invest in brand name products to communicate their characteristics, quality, and safety to consumers.
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