08 November 2018, 06:17 AM
  • Can a Cornish pasty originate from anywhere other than Cornwall? Well, not at the moment, due to the operation of EU regulations within the UK. But will this change
    following Brexit? Tom Broster, associate at Briffa Legal, fills us in

Geographical indicators (or GIs) are words/logos used by food and drink producers which let consumers know that their products fulfil a certain criteria - usually relating to quality, reputation, or the place and means of the product’s manufacture.

There are currently 86 protected GIs in the UK, ranging from Cornish pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies to Single Gloucester cheese, all of which are protected in the UK and wider EU by operation of EU regulations. The regulations prevent other EU countries from imitating such products, effectively granting the UK a monopoly over the production of GI protected products.

These GIs add significant value to a product, and products bearing GIs make up around a quarter of UK food and drink exports.

But, when the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer be bound by the EU regulation granting protection to these GIs. So will protection simply fall away within the UK and EU?

It seems unlikely. The UK Government has confirmed that it will set up an independent GI scheme which, on the whole, reflects the current EU scheme, resulting in all 86 UK GIs being granted automatic protection. However, UK producers will no longer be required to recognise UK GIs in other EU territories (for example, Champagne), and producers using such GIs would need to apply for product status in the UK.

According to guidance recently issued by the UK Government, it also seems that all 86 UK GIs will continue to be protected in the EU following Brexit.

So far, this all sounds very positive for UK producers, doesn’t it? We agree, although there are some other factors to consider moving forward, all of which depend on whether there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Firstly, the UK Government states that it “anticipates” that all current UK GIs will be protected in the EU following Brexit, but also makes it clear that this is by no means an absolute certainty. In the event that UK GIs are not protected in the EU following Brexit, it is likely that UK producers will be required to submit an application to protect each GI to the European Commission.

The Government also suggests that, as an alternative means of protection, UK entities may apply for protection of their GIs as EU-wide ‘certification marks’. A certification mark is a type of trade mark owned by a single entity, and which are used by a variety of producers where their products have been certified as fulfilling certain criteria (for example, the British Standard ‘kite mark’ certifies that products fulfil certain criteria).

UK entities may apply for EU-wide protection right now knowing that such marks will continue to provide protection within both the UK and EU following Brexit (regardless of whether or not there is a no-deal Brexit). However, if UK producers are to take this approach they should also be aware that the process of registering a certification mark can be complicated and, in some cases, costly.

That being said, it is clear that the UK Government is expecting current UK GIs to have continued protection across the EU following Brexit and this is echoed by recent Government guidance.

However, as with many things Brexit-related, the mechanism by which such protection will subsist is still to be confirmed.

If you require any further advice please do contact Briffa Legal, a boutique intellectual property and commercial law firm, based in London.