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Geographical Indication has finally been registered for Champagne…. in Cambodia

Written by Mark Reed on 10 May 2019

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Cambodia has registered a geographical indication for the first time ever. This is huge news to IP law fans because it has been a battle fought for many years and many disputes have come across the desk of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in certain territories. This was filed for ‘Champagne’ by Rouse who are an International IP consultancy who also plan to file for Cognac as well. A further demonstration of the extent to which Cambodia is developing a strong and mature system of IP rights was the headline at a press release on Tuesday 7 May 2019.

If we go back to basics for successfully registering a trade mark in the UK or EU and many other territories, there are absolute grounds for refusal. A trade mark must not be descriptive of the goods and services that are being marketed under the brand and also must not be devoid of distinctive character so must be unique. The criteria for what would be deemed devoid are:

-           if it consists exclusively of an indication or sign which may designate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods or of rendering of the service, or other characteristics of the goods or service; or

-          If it consists exclusively of a sign or indication which has become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade.

Naturally, it would not take much thought to understand why the word Champagne would be considered as giving geographical indication which is why is has only been able to acquire protection as a protected designation of origin. This means that other products cannot pass themselves off as being Champagne unless it has come from this region.

A trade mark will not be granted for Champagne or even for Cognac in the UK or EU due to these legal requirements, however some jurisdictions do not have any rules on geographical origin and a protected designation of origin but do have IP laws about protecting a brand. Cambodia are proving to be strengthening its position of IP law in this regard. Fabrice Mattei, principal at Rouse acting for Champagne and Cognac, said the firm would work with the Department of IP of Cambodia to register the French brandy Cognac as well as the successful registration of Champagne. He also said “This important announcement complements Rouse’ work in protecting champagne in south-east Asia, where Champagne is now protected through GI registration in Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, through bilateral agreements in Vietnam and common law in Singapore, Brunei and Philippines.”

It appears that times are changing when it comes to geographical indication protection across Asia in particular and it will be interesting to see if this will be the start of a new understand of IP rights globally or whether it will create more of a headache with what can be protected and what can not as businesses grow and wish to enforce their rights from continent to continent.
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