Europe, SA set to guard trademarks

Image courtesy stock.xchnge (KillR-B)

The European Union (EU) and South Africa (SA) are set to protect one another’s geographic trademarks as both attempt to subdue unscrupulous enterprises that may seek to pro-fit from products with a distinctive national identity.

The Government Gazette released on February 4 by the department of trade and industry (DTI) aims to seek protection for European Trade marks in South Africa, in a “reciprocal” understanding that will also see SA agricultural products receive protection in the EU.

The public has been given 30 days to submit comments.

The EU has requested protection of about 110 different types of fruits, vegetables, beers and seafood, cheeses, meat products and olive oils, essential oils and sauces.

Muhammed De Gama, the director of legal international trade and investment at the DTI said various trademarks in conjunction with their rules of use are being protected under the publication.

The name of the agreement is the Trade Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) signed in 2002.

“This agreement liberalised ‘various tariff lines covered by trade between the two parties’. Other products for which protection is sought in the EU include indigenous products such as rooibos. We are negotiating for a broader region development agreement to replace the trade chapter of TDCA,” he said.

Experts explain that there are trademarks which indicate whether products come from a specific geographical region or area. They are referred to as

“either collective trademarks or geographical indications or appellations of origin”.

Gerard Du Toit a senior associate at Spoor and Fisher, an intellectual property law firm, says the notification purports to seek protection for this style of name.

All of SA’s major wines are protected in the EU which is the highest standard of protection. Other products protected as geographical indicators are indigenous trademarks such as, Hoodia and Honey Bush.

Karoo Lamb is still in the process, which has to be first protected in SA before protection can commence in the EU, said De Gama.

Du Toit said it was sensible for countries to provide protection for brands or words that were uniquely associated with a particular country.

“The notification is published as part of on-going negotiations between the government and Europe. As part of this agreement South Africa is required to provide protection for these styles of names emanating from Europe. By the same token the European Union will also publish notifications providing protection for the South African names,” he said.

As to how, SA can better protect its brands and products, Du Toit pointed out that Rooibos and Honey Bush are “South African products” and this was a tangible effort to provide protection, which should be seen as a “step forward”. However, it was difficult to put a number to foreign exploitation of African indigenous names.

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