Understanding the protection of foreign products with geographical indications in China

7 minute read
09 July 2024

The protection of foreign products with geographical indications in China has evolved significantly in recent years, offering new avenues for international brands to secure their unique heritage and quality.

On 27 November 2019, the China National Intellectual Property Administration ("the CNIPA") announced amendments to the Measures on the Protection of Foreign Geographical Indications Products (hereinafter referred to as "the Measures"), the new amendments came into force on the same day.  According to the amendments, the CNIPA shall replace the National Quality Inspection Bureau to be in charge of the registration of the geographical indications in China.

What are geographical indications?

A geographical indication product refers to products that are produced in a specific region, whose quality, reputation, or other characteristics are essentially dependent on the natural and human factors of the place of origin and have been approved to be named by a geographical name.

Not long after the Measures's amendments, in September 2020, after eight years of negotiation, China and the European Union ("EU") signed the EU-China Agreement on Geographical Indications. The agreement has been entered into force from March 1, 2021.

As of December 2022, the CNIPA has registered 175 geographical indication products protection applications from 22 EU member states, which include Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Greece. The products are mainly in five categories, namely wine, spirits, meat product, dairy product and olive oil, which accounts for 90.9% of the total applications. Well-known geographical indication products are "Champagne" from France, "port" from Portugal, "Roquefort cheese" from France, etc.

In the three years following EU-China Agreement being in force, more high-quality agricultural products with geographical indications from EU member states have been recognized in China. The result has significantly boosted trade of agricultural and food products between China and EU members.

Channels for foreign geographical indication products to be recognized in China

The Measures specify two channels for foreign geographical indication products to apply for recognition in China:

  • in accordance with the agreements signed between their respective countries and China or international treaties to which they jointly participate, like the above mentioned agreement between EU and China, Or,
  • in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, to apply for registration of foreign geographical indication under the Measures in China.

The former provides direct protection for foreign geographical indications in accordance with relevant treaties, while the latter allows foreign geographical indications to apply to China based on the principle of reciprocity and obtain protection after examination and approval in acc.

At the same time, the Measures have expanded the scope of protection for applicants of foreign geographical indication products in China, allowing for the appointment of agents.

Materials required to apply for protection for foreign geographical indication products in China

The documents required for an application of a foreign geographical indication include:

  • Application form
  • Information of the applicant
  • Original official certificate of geographical indication protection granted by the competent authority in the originating country or region (notarized with Chinese translation)
  • Geographical scope of production of origin produced by the competent authority of geographical indications in the originating country or region
  • Quality and technical requirements for said product, as well as an examination report showing the sensory characteristics and physical and chemical indicators of the applying product, etc.

All the documents must be submitted in Chinese. The CNIPA shall carry out a formal examination on the application materials within 30 working days of application.

A geographical indication will be posted on CNIPA's website once it is recognized. The CNIPA shall investigate, and punish infringed use of a recognized foreign geographical indication in the same way as domestic geographical indication products being protected in China.

Making a distinction between geographical indication products and geographical indication trademarks

The other way to protect geographical indication products is through geographical indication trademarks, which are also administered by the CNIPA in China.

In China, an applicant of foreign geographical indication can apply to register a collective trademark or certification trademark, which attaches the trademark to the applicable foreign geographical products.

  • Collective trademark refers to a mark registered in the name of a group, association or other organization for use by members of the organization in commercial activities to indicate the user's membership in the organization.
  • Certification mark refers to a mark controlled by an organization that has the ability to supervise a certain commodity or service and used by units or individuals outside the organization on its goods or services to prove the origin, raw materials, manufacturing methods, quality or other specific qualities of the commodity or service.

Where a foreigner or foreign enterprise applies for geographical indication as a collective trademark or certification mark, the applicant shall provide proof that the geographical indication is protected by law in its name in the country of origin. The application shall comply with the Provisions on the Registration and Administration of Collective Trademarks and Certification Marks promulgated by the CNIPA.

Legal support for your intellectual property in China

Gowling WLG's China office provides rapid and strategic advice for all areas of intellectual property in China covering IP filing and prosecution, licensing and enforcement. Our quality service is conducted on-the-ground on a daily basis, backed up by extensive local knowledge and a wide network of local patent and trademark agents, as well as litigation and enforcement professionals. Our internationally acclaimed IP team has the knowledge and resources needed to support you throughout the entire lifecycle of your IP portfolio.

If you have any questions, please contact the authors.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.