The Global Struggle Over Geographic Indications
Posted: 20 Jun 2008
Date Written: April 2007
Geographic indications (GIs) stand at the intersection of three hotly debated issues in international law: international trade, intellectual property and agricultural policy. Akin to a trademark, a GI identifies a good as originating in a particular region, where a given quality of the good is attributable to its place of origin. Well-known GIs include champagne and prosciutto di Parma. Although GIs have a long history, in recent years they have become central to the debate over the expansion of intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization. We argue that GIs have gained greater political salience and economic value due to major changes in the global economy. Proponents of GIs also raise more diffuse concerns about authenticity, heritage and locality in a rapidly globalizing world. After explaining the origins of the effort to protect GIs in international law, we assess the normative justification for these unusual intellectual property rights. Some GI protection in international law is justifiable. But the existing level of protection afforded by the World Trade Organization - as well as current demands of the European Union for even greater protection - is unjustified. We defend this position through careful consideration of the major theoretical bases for property rights.
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