Geographical Indications, the example of Sumbawa Honey

Geographical Indications (“G.I.s”) identify a product as originating in a certain region or country. So for a G.I. product, it’s reputation for quality or authenticity is intimately linked to its geographical origin.  Europe, the US and Korea and Japan are among the most active G.I. users. In Europe alone, over 3,000 G.I.s have been registered. Europe, notably companies in France and Italy, have their famous brands like Champagne, Parmesan protected as trademarks as well as G.I.s. As to G.I.s it appears there are two worlds out there. Firstly the political one, WIPO, EU, US, national governments, negotiating about G.I.s Trade Agreements, producing numerous documents that set out the advantages of G.I.s in – for example – rural development, as the EU did.

The other world are the private practitioners, corporate and IP professionals dealing with day-to-day IP issues. There G.I.s do not seem to get any excitement at all, except for the Champagne, Scotch Whiskey and other famous food, agro wine  and spirit manufacturers.

However, there is quite a lot to geographical indications, actually a lot more than we imagined.  We came to that conclusion, mainly due to a EU trade and investment project (TCF) we are involved in Indonesia, where we had to study the G.I policies and implications – in this case for Indonesia. Indonesia is lagging behind, like many other Southeast Asian countries in both number of G.I.s as well as implementing policies that “translate” G.Is into value adding instruments for their agro-food products (or other export products).  All together only 16 G.I.s have been registered, 3 of which are foreign (EU), 13 local Indonesian G.I.s (to compare, Thailand has 33 G.Is).

A good example of imperfect and lacking G.I policies happened at breakfast in my hotel in Jakarta recently. The honey I found at the breakfast table said “wild Sumbawa honey”.  On the small glass bottle a logo appears with “Awani Bali”. “Sumbawa honey” is actually a geographical indication – therefore an intellectual property right for the island of Sumbawa, locally called an “Indikasi Geografis Terdaftar”, registered in Indonesia by the Directorate General of IPR. The G.I was granted in 2001 and the G.I registration was officially handed over with ceremonial grandeur to the region’s Governor.  Sumbawa is one of the Indonesian islands, east of Bali.

The small glass bottle of honey on my breakfast table however has only a company logo owned by Awani, the company marketing this honey product. The packaging refers to “Awani, Bali”. Does this mean that the honey is made in Bali or actually in Sumbawa, where “Bali” only refers to the place where the company Awani has its corporate seat?

The honey packaging makes no reference to the logo for the “Sumbawa Honey” Geographical Indication (other than mention the words) either, nor can any reference to the G.I. be found on Awani’s website.

Sumbawa is the region that claims to be specific for this type of honey (because that’s why this Sumbawa honey became a G.I in the first place) however the honey is actually coming from a company at another island than Sumbawa, namely Bali. The producer (Awani) located in Bali (another island) of the Awani honey calls its product “Sumbawa honey”. If it is made in Bali, the geographical indication “Sumbawa Honey” should not be on the packaging as this would infringe intellectual property rights of the owner of the Sumbawa Honey G.I. Its characteristic of the confusing way G.I.s are being used and presented in Indonesia (and elsewhere, I guess).

So what are the issues?

1. The aim of a G.I is to give the product for which the G.I is given an added value, as the G.I stands for a certain quality, that the honey is being made according to specific procedures or methods, has a certain color or taste or other characteristics that distinguishes this honey from other honeys made elsewhere.  These specifics are mostly described in a so called “Book of Requirements” that is being filed in the application process and will be, after the grant of the G.I, basically the “handbook” on how the product for which the G.I is granted is being made or grown.  This makes the G.I a “distinctive sign”. In this regard, the G.I functions no different than a trademark or brand name, that also distinguishes a certain product form those of its competitors. American SKIPPY peanut butter tastes different than Dutch CALVE PINDAKAAS yet neither CALVE nor SKIPPY are G.I.’s, they are brands or trademarks.

The “added value” (quality, taste, colour, etc.) incorporated in the G.I can only be used by those who make the honey according to the Book of Requirement. The words “Sumbawa Honey” for honey that is not made on Sumbawa island and not according to those requirements, is therefor an IPR breach and can be objected by the owners and legitimate users of the G.I. in Indonesia

2. A G.I is commonly identified by using a logo, a sign that can be used by anyone who makes –in this case – the honey according to the Requirements of that particular G.I. Using a logo underscores the “value” contributed to a product from that region. Unlike a trademark  – that relates to a certain manufacturer or individual company –  a G.I is a collective sign: anyone can use it, as long as the product for which the logo is being used  s made according to those “requirements”.

However in the absence of a logo it is hard to communicate that “commonality” of characteristics. Cambodia has Kampot Pepper as a G.I and cleverly has its own website, explaining the specifics of the kampot pepper region. It even states a “List Of Registered Traders”

Its shows the need to create better awareness what G.I.s can do to and how it can actually help improve trade and export by maintaining a strict marketing and publicity as well as quality management policy using the G.I.. Intellectual property as a tool to increase trade performance that is what it should be.


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