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Demerara Sugar: A Bitter Pill to Swallow?

Intellectual Property Journal, Vol. 24, p. 1, 2011

14 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2012  

Dev Saif Gangjee

Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

Date Written: December 1, 2011


At first glance, the recent Canadian litigation over the right to use ‘Demerara sugar’ plays out as a defamation dispute. The Guyanese Minister for Agriculture had complained that the use of ‘Demerara sugar’ by an importer on sugar from Mauritius was misleading, since Demerara took its name from the eponymous Guyanese province. The importer took exception to allegations of misleading use, characterising them as libellous. In these circumstances, the central issue before the trial and appellate courts concerned the existence of a sovereign immunity defence to libel claims. Yet despite being framed by libel law, this dispute represents the surface of deeper crosscurrents relating to international Geographical Indications protection, since the Ministers objections rested on the assumption that ‘Demerara sugar’ should be reserved for Guyanese producers. Unpacking this dispute reveals traces of the two most controversial issues in international GI law today: (1) a conflict between trademarks and GIs, as well as (2) the generic use of a formerly geographical designation. The Demerara sugar litigation therefore provides us with an instructive case study of an attempt to integrate GI protection within a trademark law paradigm, while also highlighting the important qualifications and limitations of this approach.

Keywords: Geographical Indications, Trademarks, Libel and slander, Canada, Sugar, Generic, Sovereign immunity

JEL Classification: K13, O34

Suggested Citation

Gangjee, Dev Saif, Demerara Sugar: A Bitter Pill to Swallow? (December 1, 2011). Intellectual Property Journal, Vol. 24, p. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Dev S. Gangjee (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of Oxford ( email )

Cowley Place
Oxford, OX4 1DY
United Kingdom

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