The topic of EU-wide protected designations of origin (Geographical Indications, GI) also for natural stone is making progress in the Brussels Commission

Should natural stone be protected with a Geographical Indication, and should this be EU-wide?

It appears in the new Action Plan on Intellectual Property and is expected to be back on the agenda in the 3rd quarter of 2021

The issue of EU-wide protection for non-agricultural products, which is hugely important to the natural stone sector, has cleared important hurdles at the Commission in Brussels in recent years. Now, it is part of the Commission’s Action Plan on Intellectual Property.

If there were such protection, natural stones with false names (for example: Calacatta Marble, but which comes from China or Turkey) would no longer be allowed to be brought into the EU and sold there under this designation.

Almost more importantly, the same would apply to deliberately misnamed artificial stones.

In order, things are a bit confusing.

First, e.g., Parma ham is protected as an agricultural product produced in a specific region using specific processes. No other ham is allowed to call itself that – within the EU, mind you. Another example of many is Bordeaux wine.

Now, there are also products that do not come from the world of food and yet are very well known, for example, Murano glass, porcelain from Limoges, glass from Jablonec or steel blades from Solingen. They, like the agricultural products above, have an equally strong regional connection.

However: such non-agricultural products could only be protected on a national level so far. This meant, until now: the title Murano glass is known far beyond the region around Venice, but it is only protected in Italy; the same applies to the above-mentioned French porcelain, Czech glass or German steel blades.

This begs the question: why shouldn’t product names from the non-agricultural sector also be protectable throughout the EU? And, from the point of view of the stone industry, why should natural stones that can be precisely assigned to a geological region not also be granted such protection? Here, too, there is already protection with GIs on a national level.

The Commission has been dealing with this issue since 2014.

Natural stone, like some wine, is undoubtedly closely linked to a region of origin.

The process was long and tedious, as it is in Brussels. First of all, it was necessary to take stock of how many national GI-products there are in the – since Brexit only – 27 member countries and what these countries would think of an extension of the protection shield to non-agricultural products.

Last but not least, there were questions to be answered about the effort and outcome of such GIs. After all, obtaining such a title requires a great deal of effort on the part of the applicants, and thus entails costs for the manufacturing companies.

And in the end, there would have to be detailed legal regulations on how the states would resolve disputes.

Valerie Marie d’Avigneau from the EU Commission brought us up to date. She works in the Directorate General (DG) GROW at this Brussels-based authority: it deals with the areas of the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The core is now the new Action Plan on Intellectual Property, which the Commission adopted in November 2020. It does not only deal with books, films or computer programs. Regarding GIs, it states: “It aims at strengthening the protection of agricultural geographical indications (GIs) while considering the feasibility of a GI protection system for non-agricultural products at EU level.“

That sounds rather reserved. Valerie Marie d’Avigneau speaks of a “cautious” formulation and explains the reasons for it: “We need to take into account the diversity of opinions expressed on this subject so far and will, therefore, assess the feasibility of various options.“

Meaning: the Commission wants the EU-wide protection also for non-agricultural products, but does not yet know exactly how.

As for the diversity of opinions that Valerie Marie d’Avigneau addresses, from November 2020 to January 2021 there had been an opportunity on the website “Have your say“ for all EU citizens and their organizations to put on record their own opinion on the subject. 70 entries were registered, some of which were from natural stone organizations. We have attached below the link to the report on this.

These entries must now be evaluated.

For this year, the Commission has put the topic on the agenda for the 3rd quarter.

For completeness:
In 2019, there had been a large-scale study, including mystery shoppers, which was used to test the impact of non-agricultural GIs. Key findings were:
* the protection effect as such turned out to be lower than hoped,
* however, it was positive that Gis significantly increased the visibility of such products and that
* customers were willing to pay more for such products.

As for figures on expected effects, the study said: “In the longer term, EU-wide GI protection for non-agricultural products could yield an overall increase in intra-EU tradeof about 4.9-6.6% (€37.6-50 billion). Predictions are that a uniform system could boost employment in the regions by 0.12-0.14% and create 284,000-338,000 new jobs in the EU as a whole.“

In 2020, lawyers had met at the German Max Planck for Innovation and Competition. One of the results was that the French laws that exist there on national Gis could be models for transfer to the entire Community.

Action Plan on Intellectual Property

Overview: Inception Impact Assessment

Have Your Say

Study

Lawyers‘ meeting at the Max Planck for Innovation and Competition

(12.02.2021, USA: 02.12.2021)