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Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser may be the “King of Beers” in the United States, but the Czech Republic’s Budejovicky Budvar, which produces its own brand of Budweiser, wants to wrestle away the crown. For 100 years, the Czech company and the St. Louis-based brewer have engaged in a global battle over the true owner of the rights to the Budweiser name. The Czechs brew their Bud in the town of Ceske Budejovic — or Budweis as it’s known in German — and argue they have geographic claim to the name. In other words, because Bud is a name based on a specific city or region’s moniker, they should have the right to use it around the world. Anheuser-Busch can thank its lucky hops that only a few courts and countries have bought the Czech beer maker’s claim. The American company contends it began brewing its Bud some 19 years before the Czechs filled their first keg. The Budweiser battle is just one on a growing list of fights over geographic indications — or names on food, wine and spirits that connote a specific place. Over the last few years, the European Union has stepped up efforts to get a worldwide registry of geographic indications. If the register is adopted, only foods, wines and spirits that are produced in a specific place could carry the geographic identifier. European countries want local producers to have exclusive rights to terms that describe the region where a product originates. But the United States and other countries argue that words like “Parmesan” and “champagne” have a generic meaning and companies should not be forced to stop using them on their labels. Opponents fear that geographic indications may conflict with their trademarks — like, for example, Budweiser. They also contend relabeling products could cost manufacturers millions and that they may lose customers who have come to identify with a particular name on a product, such as “Dijon” or “feta.” “It costs anywhere from $20 million to $200 million annually to roll out a new brand in the United States,” said Sarah Fogarty Thorn, of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. “The cost of repackaging, relabeling and re-educating consumers is significant for us.” While many countries, including the United States, already register geographic indications, the European Union would like a single, mandatory system that provides broader protection for its producers. “Many times these geographic indications are not sufficiently protected,” Susana Perez Ferreras, an administrator of the European Commission, told a conference in San Francisco last week. “When a geographic indication becomes a famous appellation you will find an undue use and encroachment in the market by competitors.” What’s needed, she said, is an “easy way to go before a judge and protect the interests” of producers. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opposes the creation of a register, arguing that current government systems are sufficient to protect geographic indications as intellectual property. The PTO has registered more than 100 geographic indications to domestic and foreign groups, including “parmigiana reggiano” for cheese made in the Parma-Reggio region of Italy; Darjeeling for tea cultivated in Darjeeling, India; Parma for ham made in the Italian town of Parma, and “Swiss” for chocolate made in Switzerland. The European Commission, meanwhile, has given about 500 products a geographic indication designation. “There is a national system in the United States and elsewhere, and if you want protection for a geographic indication you can apply for it,” said Eleanor Meltzer, an attorney adviser with the PTO. “It would be completely unnecessary to have a list. We don’t have lists of patents or trademarks that have to be protected internationally forever.” THE TOP 40 The international community has been arguing over how to protect geographic indications for decades. A set of minimum standards for use of such IP was included in the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), part of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. But many countries and producers say those provisions aren’t adequate. The World Intellectual Property Organization held its biennial meetings on the topic in San Francisco last week. Representatives from 15 countries participated in the event, which was co-sponsored by the PTO. The European Union’s proposal for a worldwide registry was a focal point of the meeting. The EU first raised the proposal in 1999, but it only recently told the PTO and other representatives of the World Trade Organization that it had come up with an initial list of 40 names to be included in the proposed register. Meltzer said the EU has not revealed what’s on the list, only that the majority are wines, with some cheeses and a few other products. “We’re all wondering what’s on this list,” she said. “I suspect it includes Chablis, champagne and burgundy for wines and Parmesan and feta for cheese.” The World Trade Organization will discuss geographic indications at its meeting in Cancun in September, at which time many expect the EU list will be revealed. While the 15 member countries of the European Union favor the formation of a register, there is internal squabbling over who has the right to a specific name. Greece, Denmark and France are fighting over rights to the “feta” name. Where you stand on the issue “all depends on whether you’ve got something to protect,” said former PTO Director Q. Todd Dickinson, who is now a partner at Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Mexico, for example, wants exclusive rights to the tequila name (the alcohol is produced from the agave plant grown in the town of Tequila), and India wants to assure that its Darjeeling name is not encroached by other tea producers. U.S. food manufacturers, however, are worried that the imposition of geographic indications may encroach on their brand names or trademarks. Thorn said the Grocery Manufacturers of America is very alarmed about the European Union’s desire to “claw back” generic terms like Parmesan to make them geographic indications. “We’re equally concerned about the interaction of trademarks and geographic indications,” she said in her presentation to the symposium. She raised the hypothetical situation in which a company starts marketing “Nice Juice” only to face objections from the French town of Nice. “We don’t know every river and principality that may have meaning to another country.” GRAPE EXPECTATIONS Wine companies in the United States have mixed views on how regional names should be protected. “I think everyone favors geographic indications,” said Robert Burlingame, an associate at Pillsbury Winthrop who represents wine companies. “It’s just how we go about doing it.” The U.S. wine industry has its own geographic indications that refer to where a wine comes from. Dubbed “approved viticultural areas,” they include “Napa Valley,” “Sonoma Coast” and “Russian River Valley.” But the designations have been controversial among wineries. Bronco Wine Co., for example, is suing the state of California over a statute that prohibits vintners from using the Napa name unless most of their grapes come from Napa. Bronco won the case at the lower court and an appeal is pending before the California Supreme Court. While companies in Napa Valley want to protect their name, Burlingame said he also has clients who are worried that an approved viticultural area will include a term that incorporates their trademark. Despite the renewed attention on the issue of geographic indications, it’s uncertain whether the European Union will be able to get enough backing for a worldwide register. A host of questions remain unanswered, such as what qualifies as geographic indications, whether they have precedence over trademarks, and how the register will be implemented. Dickinson said a new treaty would probably be needed to thrash out issues such as who will be responsible for originating and maintaining the list, the mechanism to notify people that a name is on the list, and the process to appeal a listing. “This has been proposed for a while and has had difficulty getting political traction, not the least because it sets up another bureaucracy,” Dickinson said. “I think it’s an interesting idea if it advances the issue without reopening TRIPS. Whether enough political will can be brought to set up a whole new system . . . is another question.”

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