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Common food names offered protection

Patent & Trademark Office offers new guidelines to help ensure geographical indicators are not misused.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) published a new examination guide that will help ensure that common food names are given adequate consideration and protection.

The new improvements are contained within an examination procedure that guides USPTO's trademark examining attorneys to inform their review of applications. The revision significantly clarifies and improves review procedures for certain trademarks related to cheese or meat names, creating a more consistent process that will protect the interests of manufacturers, farmers and consumers of common food terms such as parmesan and bologna.

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council, National Milk Producers Federation, North American Meat Institute, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and American Farm Bureau Federation commended the action.

“The U.S. remains the pre-eminent leader on intellectual property (IP) rights and, given the critical importance of safeguarding the rights of consumers and other stakeholders in a balanced IP [intellectual property] system, sets a global example for a system that fairly protects truly distinctive products and common-name goods alike. This recent step further deepens U.S. leadership in this arena,” CCFN director Jaime Castaneda said.

The European Union’s campaign to confiscate the use of food terms in countries around the world has targeted names in common usage for generations, including generic cheese and meat names, common descriptive terms for wine and grape varietals and many others.

Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and his team at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other partners within the Administration, denounced the EU’s ongoing abuse of legitimate geographical indication (GI) protections to prevent the trade of common-name products in its annual "Special 301 Report" released April 29.

USTR has made tangible strides to keep doors open for equitable competition for common food names in recent trade agreements, including the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the China Phase One agreement.

CCFN has asked that the U.S. government build upon this framework to secure clear and explicit commitments to protect market access for a comprehensive range of common-name products in all trade negotiations moving forward.

“With its denunciation of the EU’s GI barriers, the USTR has sent a firm message that it is a new day in the fight against the unfair trade practices of the European Commission, and the U.S. government has a clear understanding of what’s at stake for the farmers, manufacturers and consumers who produce and enjoy these well-loved common-food name products,” Castaneda added.

CCFN filed extensive comments with USTR outlining the EU’s problematic GI agenda and the threat it poses to common food names and intellectual property systems. CCFN also testified at a USTR-led hearing on those issues to further call USTR’s attention to these challenges.

TAGS: Policy
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