A Glance Into the Definition and History of Geographical Indications (GI)

Definition of Geographical Indications

A geographical indication has been described by the World Intellectual Property Organisation as a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.[1] 

Simply put, geographical indications are labels used in identifying products that originate from a particular location, with such products possessing peculiar features as a result of place of origin.

In order for a sign to enjoy protection under GI, three major conditions[2] have to be fulfilled;

  • First, the sign must exist in relation to a product or good
  • Second, such product must originate from a particular locality or area; and
  • The product must possess a reputation, or distinctive feature that can be ostensibly attributed to the particular geographical location the product is sourced from,

Geographical indication as a branch of intellectual property can be said to be quite novel in comparison to the other branches that fall under intellectual property like; copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. The only other branch of intellectual property that could be said to rival geographical indications in terms of novelty is traditional knowledge. Unfortunately, the novelty part of a geographical indication is as encouraging as it is problematic. It is encouraging because it shows an improved understanding of intellectual property and how eclectic it is in nature, while also recognizing the need to preserve and protect the collective identity and organized processes peculiar to a certain locality. On the other hand, it could be said to be discouraging due to the fact that it would take quite a while for developing countries especially, to catch up with the trend. To better understand the duality expressed in the preceding line of thought, it is important to delve into the history of geography, especially from an international point of view. 

History of Geographical Indications

Generally speaking, the practice of identifying products by their place of origin is probably as old as history in itself. For instance, certain parts of the Holy Bible[3] talk about certain products in ways that presume that the quality of such products was quite distinct as a result of their places of origin. One notable example of this was the cedar of Lebanon, which was very important to many of King Solomon’s mega projects. As time went on, notable explorers seemed to be very keen about sourcing some products from specific territories that they came in contact with during their incessant voyages. Some of these explorers include Christopher Colombus, Vasco De Gama, Marco Polo, amongst others, and it appeared as these explorers engaged in their explorations, they found out that certain products were of higher quality in certain locations. This was either due to the prevailing climatic conditions in such places or due to the superior skill and craftsmanship possessed by the makers of those products in such empires.

Products like Silk from China (which gave rise to the naming of the trade routes as the Silk Road)[4], Bronze works from Benin, rugs from the Ottoman Empire[5], Phoenician purple (used to refer to royal clothing made from the purple dye extracted from the Murex Snail), Spices from India and Egypt, amongst many other products that largely depended on their places of origin for the reputation they possessed in the trading that took place at the time, are examples.

As time went on, intellectual property rights and laws specific to trade began to come into existence in form of trademarks, patents, and so on. It did not take long before the international community began to realize that quite a number of products had to be trademarked in tandem with their places of origin. This led to the first agreement that is referred to as the premier framework with regards to the protection of intellectual property in form of Geographical Indications; The Paris Convention for the Protection Of Industrial Property. This took place in the year 1883. Subsequent agreements that also involved the protection of GI include; The Madrid Agreement of 1891, the Lisbon agreement of 1958, and the TRIPS agreement.

Today, the constant evolution of intellectual property alongside the realization of its importance to international development has led to various forms of both global and regional treaties in the protection of GI.

[1] Geographical Indications. See; https://www.wipo.int/geo_indications/en/

[2] Importance of Geographical Indication in the Growing IPR world by Amikar Parwar. Pg 1

[3] 1 Kings 5:6.

[4]   Silk in Antiquity. See; https://www.worldhistory.org/Silk/

[5] Introduction To The Court Carpets Of The Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires; see https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/west-and-central-asia-apahh/west-asia/a/introduction-to-the-court-carpets-of-the-ottoman-safavid-and-mughal-empires


Add Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *