Countries Fight over Champagne and Rice

By Presidencia de la Nación Argentina, CC BY 2.0,

People usually think about a trademark as something a company owns. But a similar kind of intellectual property right can also be “owned” (in a sense) by a country or geographical region.

A trademark, as the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) explains, is

any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.

The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.

A trademark:

  • Identifies the source of your goods or services.
  • Provides legal protection for your brand.
  • Helps you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.

Just as a trademark can identify the company that’s the source of goods, a Geographical Indication (GI) can indicate the country or region that’s the source of goods.

Governments have protected trade names and trademarks associated with specific regions since at least the end of the 19th century.

About 10,000 indications are registered as GIs. Some of the most famous are for Bordeaux wine and Parmigiano cheese.

As the European Commission explains, a GI is “a distinctive sign used to identify a product whose quality, reputation or other such characteristics relate to its geographical origin.”

Appellation d'origine contrôlée ('Appellation of origin') is a sub-type of GI where “quality, method, and reputation of a product originate from a strictly defined area specified in its intellectual property right registration.”

GIs are governed by the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Although champagne (the bubbly alcoholic beverage) is associated with the Champagne (the region of France), as the Washington Post reports, as of July 2 a new law in Russia “will require French champagne makers to add a “sparkling wine” reference to the back of their bottles sold in Russia.”

The new law, signed by President Putin, “stipulates that makers of Russian “shampanskoye” — the Russian word for champagne — will get a unique status, exempting it from the sparkling wine note on the back.”

The new law led to a flurry of mockery, as the Post reported:

Vasya Oblomov, a popular Russian musician, joked on Twitter that the country should now call all cars produced in Russia “Mercedes” while labeling the German-made models “foreign-assembled cars.”

Moët Hennessy, a leading producer of French champagne, agreed to add the “sparkling wine” designation to the back of its bottles sold in Russia, but said this might delay shipments.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have been fighting over the designation “Basmati” for rice sold in the EU for ten years.

The countries initially hoped to file a joint application for the name in the EU, but this effort was derailed in 2008 when terrorists based in Pakistan killed at least 174 people in Mumbai.

India filed an application for the exclusive right to use the “Basmati” name for rice sold in the EU in 2018, and the matter is now in the consultation stage.

Categories: Trademarks