Intellectual property: Commission boosts protection of European craft and industrial products in the EU and beyond

(Credit: Unspash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Today, the Commission has proposed a first-ever framework to protect the intellectual property for craft and industrial products that rely on the originality and authenticity of traditional practices from their regions. This framework will cover products such as Murano glass, Donegal tweed, Porcelaine de Limoges, Solingen cutlery and Boleslawiec pottery. While these products benefit from a European and sometimes global reputation and standing, producers have so far lacked an EU indication protection linking their products’ origin and reputation to their quality.

Drawing on the success of the geographical indication system for wine-spirit drinks and agricultural products, with today’s proposal for a Regulation, the Commission aims to enable producers to protect craft and industrial products associated with their region and their traditional know-how, with effects in Europe and beyond. The Regulation, providing for an EU indication protection, will make it easier for consumers to recognise the quality of such products and make more informed choices. It will help to promote, attract and retain skills and jobs in Europe’s regions, contributing to their economic development. The proposal would also ensure that traditional craft and industrial products are put on an equal footing with protected geographical indications that already exist in the agricultural area. 

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “Many European regions hold an untapped potential for jobs and growth. Notably in the crafts and industrial sector, many SMEs have developed and refined manufacturing skills over generations, but lack incentives and resources to project them, especially across borders. The protection granted by geographical indications for craft and industrial products will encourage both regions and producers in their competition at a continental and global level.

Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, said: “Europe has an exceptional legacy of world-renown crafts and industrial products. It is time that these producers benefit from a new intellectual property right, like food and wine producers, that will increase trust and visibility for their products, guaranteeing authenticity and reputation. Today’s initiative will contribute to the creation of skilled jobs especially for SMEs and to the development of tourism also in the more rural or economically weak areas.”

Today’s proposal for a Regulation will:

  • Establish an EU-wide protection for geographical indications of craft and industrial products to help producers protect and enforce the intellectual property rights of their products across the EU. The new Regulation will also facilitate action against fake products, including those sold online. It will address the currently fragmented and partial protections that exist at national level.
  • Enable simple and cost-efficient registration of GIs for craft and industrial products by establishing a two-level application process. This would require producers to file their GI applications to designated Member States’ authorities, who will then submit successful applications for further evaluation and approval to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). A direct application procedure to EUIPO will also be possible for Member States that do not have a national evaluation procedure in place. The proposal also offers the possibility for producers to self-declare compliance of their products with the product specifications, making the system lighter and less costly.
  • Allow full compatibility with international GI protection by enabling producers of registered craft and industrial GIs to protect their products in all countries that are signatories of the Geneva Act on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications under the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), to which the EU acceded in November 2019 and which covers craft and industrial GIs. At the same time, it will now be possible to protect corresponding GIs from third countries within the EU.
  • Support the development of Europe’s rural and other regions by providing incentives for producers, especially SMEs, to invest in new authentic products and create niche markets. The proposed Regulation will also help to retain unique skills that might otherwise disappear, particularly in Europe’s rural and less developed regions. Regions would benefit from the reputation of the new GIs. This can contribute to attracting tourists and to creating new highly skilled jobs in the regions, thereby boosting their economic recovery.

Background

Today’s proposal follows the Intellectual Property Action Plan adopted in November 2020, where the Commission announced that it would consider the feasibility of a GI protection system for craft and industrial products at EU level. This built on calls from producers, regional authorities, the European Parliament and the Committee of Regions, asking the Commission to create a regulatory framework for the protection of craft and industrial products. In November 2019, the EU’s accession to the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origins and Geographical Indications, a treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (‘WIPO’) brought further impulse.

Current Union law protects GIs for agricultural products, food and wines. Today’s proposal would create a complementary protection system, aiming as well for high intellectual property protection, improved consumer information and boosting regional recovery. The new system will offer the same level of protection as the existing GIs, while taking into account the different nature of craft and industrial products.

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