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New Zealand to introduce mechanism for protection of Geographical Indications 02 Dec 2015

What is a Geographical Indication?

A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign that guarantees a product comes from a particular location and possesses certain qualities due to that origin. Examples of well-known GIs include “Champagne” for wine and “Roquefort” for cheese.

Legal Protection for Geographical Indications in New Zealand

Several countries around the world have legislation and registers for protecting GIs. These mechanisms can be used to prevent others using the GI without first meeting the specified criteria.

New Zealand has never had an official register. Instead, producers seeking to prevent others from using their GI had to use either the Trade Marks Act 2002, or the tort of passing off, neither of which are particularly suited for this purpose.

New Zealand has previously attempted to enact a GI Register, most recently in 2006 when the Government enacted the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 (the GI Act). However, this Act never entered into force. In November 2015, the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament. This Bill seeks to resolve certain issues with the GI Act so it can finally be enacted. As the name implies, the GI Act applies only to wines and spirits.

Once amended and enacted, the GI Act will provide a mechanism for geographical indications for wines and spirits to be registered. Once registered, people or companies seeking to use the GI will need to meet certain criteria before they can use it – for example, that 85% of the wine was obtained from grapes harvested in that particular geographic location.

Registering a Geographical Indication

In order to be registrable under the GI Act a GI to must have a particular “quality, or reputation, or other characteristic” which is attributable to the geographical origin. For example, Darjeeling tea has a naturally occurring flavour and quality which is due to the location it is grown.

In New Zealand, the unique combination of maritime climate and temperatures gives New Zealand wines a different character to those grown in other countries.

Not only does New Zealand wine have unique characteristics, but each wine growing region in New Zealand has unique soil and climate which combine to give wine from that origin particular characteristics. Potentially, each wine growing region in New Zealand could apply for their own GI.

The GI Act is not only for New Zealand wine growers and spirit producers. Any “interested person” (such as a regional wine body or a wine producers association) can apply for registration a GI, including from other countries.

Why register a Geographical Indication?

GI’s will allow the New Zealand wine industry to further develop their brand, by protecting the reputation of the unique characteristics of New Zealand wines.

Currently, there is little that wine producers can do to stop overseas companies or producers from describing their wines as originating from New Zealand, or suggesting their wine has certain characteristics associated with New Zealand - for example using the term “Marlborough style”.

The new GI Act means the New Zealand brand and reputation for wine can be more easily protected overseas. A registered New Zealand GI can be used by producers to gain reciprocal protection in other jurisdictions such as the European Union.

Protecting the reputation of New Zealand wine overseas is particularly important for the wine industry as a large percentage of the wine produced in New Zealand is exported.

Future of Geographical Indications

The GI Act allows foreign wine and spirits producers to protect their marks in New Zealand, so we may see registrations for GI’s such as “Bordeaux” and “Tequila” in the near future.

Although the GI Act only covers wines and spirits for now, it is possible that the GI Act could be expanded to cover other products as well. In other countries many types of goods can be protected, including cheese, tea and ham. There might one day be a GI for Manuka honey, or Paua and Mussels.

Christopher Sheehan, Lawyer