Wines and mangoes as geographical Indications

Amicus Curiae
Ricmond K. Lee

Posted on October 15, 2014

A STORY published in the Aug. 28 issue of BusinessWorld attributed the minimal damage sustained by the famous vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley from the recent 6.0-magnitude quake to its terroir. Terroir is a French concept that refers to the unique property of a geographical environment. Apparently, rocky soil that is ideal for producing fine wines holds up better to seismic jolts compared to clay or sand.

Apart from the soil, Napa Valley’s terroir includes its topography, geology and climate. Their unique combination with grape varieties produces the famous Napa Valley wines. Because of the terroir-driven characteristics of Napa Valley wines, vintners in the region have exclusively claimed “Napa Valley” as a geographical indication.

Geographical indication (GI) is an intellectual property (IP) right granted to a product when there exists a direct qualitative link between the product and its geographical origin by reason of the soil, topography, climate, human skills or traditions of the place of origin. The rationale underlying GI protection is that specific geographical locations yield product qualities that are inimitable.

The term “geographical indication” was introduced in a 1994 agreement under the World Trade Organization. However, the concept itself has long been established in Europe.

In classical antiquity, ancient poets referred to wine from the Greek island of Chios as the “nectar of the Gods.” The Ariousia region on the island has a special microclimate that is conducive to viticulture. This led to the production of what was popularly known as “Homer’s wine” whose fame and reputation lasted more than 1,500 years.

It is no surprise that the most famous GIs are Old World wines, such as Champagne, Scotch, Cognac, Sherry, Porto, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Because “Champagne” is protected as a GI, sparkling white wines not originating from the Champagne region in France cannot be marketed or labeled as “Champagne.”

About a decade ago, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) announced that it would oppose Mexico’s bid to register “Manila mango” as a form of GI because such registration will mislead consumers as to the origin of the mango. Manila-variety mangoes are grown in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Carabao-variety mango seedlings were among the produce transported to Mexico during the two-and-a-half centuries of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. It is believed that over the centuries, the original carabao variety from the Philippines was crossbred with other mango varieties to produce what is now known as Mexico’s Manila mango variety.

While Mexico’s Manila mango no longer bears any resemblance to the Philippines’ famous carabao mango, the latter is sold abroad as “Philippine Super Mango,” to distinguish it from the former. Currently, the IPOPHL has been assisting the producers of the Guimaras fresh mango and the Cebu dried mango toward the development of a comprehensive GI scheme for their products.

Despite being recognized as a distinct IP right under our laws, GIs are currently protected as a form of trademark called a collective mark. However, there is a view that the current registration system may not be adequate or even suitable to protect GIs since collective marks put emphasis on the producers rather than the place where the goods are produced. In the past few years, the IPOPHL has begun laying the groundwork for the implementation of a GI-specific registration system, with the administrative rules and regulations expected to be issued soon.

Last year, the IPOPHL and the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the joint development, protection and promotion of GIs. The CDA was tasked to organize groups of producers into GI cooperatives, or encourage the transformation of existing cooperatives into a federation of GI cooperatives. These association or cooperative of producers will be tasked to set up the code of practice or regulations of use of the GI, and they will also be responsible for the internal quality control.

In addition to mangoes, the IPOPHL identified 11 other potential GIs for documentation, development and promotion: Bonoan bangus (milkfish), Bicol pili nut, Bongolan banana, Batangas Barako coffee, Kalinga (Arabica) coffee, Davao suha (pomelo), Mindoro calamansi, Lake Sebu T’nalak (the traditional tapestry of the T’boli tribe), Lumban Barong Tagalog, Aklan piƱa cloth, and Tayabas lambanog (arak).

For local producers, the development of a GI scheme will help their products penetrate the global market and obtain a premium price. For the consumers, GI serves as a guarantee that products possess certain characteristics or meet certain qualifications or standards.

Hopefully, the development of a GI scheme will also benefit the local community involved. Studies have shown the potential of GIs to improve rural livelihoods, preserve traditional knowledge and cultural heritage, and promote agro-tourism.

With the Asean economic integration next year, products will move across borders with greater frequency, including agricultural and artisanal products that are often the subjects of GI. Within the region, Thailand leads the way in extending protection to GIs. Last year, the Thai Hommali jasmine rice was the first Asean GI to be accorded EU protection. The time may be ripe for Congress to revisit our laws and determine if amendments are necessary for the better protection of our GIs.

Richmond K. Lee is a senior associate of the Intellectual Property Department Corporate of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices.