This month saw Gower Salt Marsh Lamb becoming the first new product to be granted Geographical Indication (GI) status under the UK’s new post-Brexit scheme. More will surely follow from both the UK and EU, as food and drink producers get used to the new way of doing things.
For any business owner whose product relates to GIs, whether from the EU or UK, it is important to understand the new procedures. Moreover, everyone will need to understand the changes to Northern Ireland vs. Republic of Ireland procedural issues as well as other GI-related headaches in a post-Brexit world.
For decades if not centuries, different regions across the EU have been fiercely proud and protective of the food and drink they produce from their specific terrain and/or livestock.
This mix of pride and preservation is how the “geographical indications” (“GIs”) scheme came about. Rather than protecting the brand of one particular producer, GIs protect the names of wines, food, spirits, and aromatised wines from specific regions and possess certain qualities or reputations based on this origin, thereby guaranteeing product authenticity. As such, a multitude of producers can use the GI, provided they meet the requisite criteria (which may cover location, method of production etc.).
Common examples of GIs registered under the EU’s protection scheme include Champagne, Brie de Meaux, Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham), Halloumi, Cornish Pasty and Gruyère. But, there are many other GIs that are less well-known, such as West Country Beef, Fenland Celery, Porc du Sud-Ouest, and Newmarket Sausage.
Over time, countries outside the EU have also taken advantage of the scheme, so we see GIs such as Tequila (Mexico) and Rooibus/Red Bush (South Africa) registered in the EU, as well as a number of GIs from China, including four wines, seven spirits and a staggering 90 foods!
GI headaches in a post-Brexit world
When the UK was part of the EU, the system was clear. But now, like so many other things, manufacturers and brand owners are grappling with changing and sometimes uncertain rules about what they can and can’t do.
So let’s take a look at how things stand post-Brexit:
Status of GI on EU register as of 31 December 2020
Selling in Great Britain
Selling in EU and/or Northern Ireland
Still has effect (granted equivalent protection under new UK GI scheme)
Still has effect
Pending or post-dates
No effect. Must file separate application under new UK GI scheme
Still has effect, once registered
The most important thing to note is that if the GI wasn’t registered under the EU scheme by the end of 2020, it will have no automatic effect in Great Britain. A new separate application must be filed under the UK’s new scheme, managed by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
No less important is to note the reference to “Great Britain” (not “UK”) in the table above and the distinction between Northern and Southern Ireland (EIRE). The new UK GI scheme protects GI names for products sold in Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland; NI will continue to use the EU GI scheme to protect goods sold there, to avoid a hard border with EIRE.
What does the UK GI scheme look like?
In short, much like the EU GI scheme – but with different logos.
Like the EU GI scheme, the UK GI scheme still protects products using three identical GI designations, namely:
protected designation of origin (PDO);
protected geographical indication (PGI); and
traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG).
The scheme also has new logos to be used for GI protected products (compulsory for some products but not all) with associated rules:
Like the EU system, the UK regime also allows for third-country applications (like the Tequila, Rooibus/Red Bush and Chinese examples above).
Interestingly, if you’re a producer in Great Britain, you will need to secure protection under the UK GI scheme first before you apply to the EU scheme to protect the name in Northern Ireland or the EU. If, however, you’re a producer in Northern Ireland, you can apply under either the UK or EU scheme at the outset – there is no obligation to seek UK registration first.
The UK’s GI register can be searched here: https://www.gov.uk/protected-food-drink-names
The EU’s GI register can be searched here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/food-safety-and-quality/certification/quality-labels/geographical-indications-register/
What else do I need to know?
The UK has made a special arrangement with the US to protect the names of certain US-originating wines and spirits even though they are not registered as GIs e.g. Bourbon (whisky).
You can see a full list here: https://www.gov.uk/protected-food-drink-names?register%5B%5D=american-viticultural-areas&status%5B%5D=registered.
So don’t assume that just because a US wine/spirit name isn’t on the GI list, you are free to use it in the UK.
Make sure you’re not inadvertently falling foul of the GI system by using a protected term for a non-qualifying product – check both the UK and GI registers if you’re at all unsure.
Make sure you know where the product is being sold and check any GI or other labelling requirements (noting the distinction between North and Southern Ireland). In particular, note the 1 January 2024 deadline to switch over to the new UK GI logos for Great Britain products sold in Great Britain with a GI which predates 1 January 2021.
Be aware that trade marks that conflict with a GI will be rejected unless the specification excludes the geographical location where the GI is in force (not always possible).
Note also that trade marks containing GIs will attract an objection, unless the specification is limited to the relevant territory e.g. “Rees Cornish Pasties” would be acceptable for “pasties which comply with the regulations of the Protected Geographical Indication Cornish Pasty” but not for “pastry products” at large.
Look out for further reciprocal GI agreements outside the EU in the future. The UK is actively seeking trade deals around the world as part of its post-Brexit growth strategy and these may very well include bilateral reciprocal protection of GIs.
Here to help
For more information about securing protection under either the UK or European GI scheme, or if you would like any further advice, please contact Rowena Tolley or your usual Kilburn & Strode trade mark advisor.