Scotch Whisky & Darjeeling as GIs

30 Apr 2013

What do Darjeeling tea and Scotch Whisky have in common?

I was recently in Bangkok to speak about the protection of Scotch Whisky at the Worldwide Symposium on Geographical Indications (GIs), organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the Thai Department of Intellectual Property.

The high number of attendees, made up of government officials, representatives of producers and legal advisers from across the world, reminded me how important GIs have become in world trade. A GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities and a reputation associated with that origin. That means Scotch Whisky is recognised as a product that must be made in Scotland.

Protection of GIs is not just about intellectual property; it is also about protecting cultural heritage and employment, particularly in rural areas. Think about the significance of the Darjeeling tea gardens in West Bengal or the Scotch Whisky distilleries on Islay. As a result, GIs are becoming increasingly important in developing countries. But it is 'mature' GIs, such as Scotch Whisky, which are leading the way in ensuring that the legal protection afforded to GIs is enforced in practice around the world.

At the Symposium, delegates heard what countries as far apart as Ethiopia and Panama are doing to encourage protection for traditional products made in their countries. Of course, the greater the reputation of the product, the greater is the threat it faces. As Scotch Whisky has been sold globally for more than 100 years, its reputation is such that it is synonymous with Scotland. Fake Scotch Whisky is an attack on the brand of a nation. That is why the Scotch Whisky Association, with the support of the producers who fund us, will vigorously protect Scotland's national drink.

Alan Park is a legal adviser with the Scotch Whisky Association