Limoges porcelain now protected by French GI scheme

36662140 - seamless blue floral pattern. background in the style of chinese painting on porcelain or russian gzhel style.“France’s national institute of industrial property, the Institut national de la propriété industrielle (INPI) has approved « Porcelaine de Limoges », the porcelain made in Limoges, in the Haute-Vienne department, as an « indication géographique protégeant les produits industriels et artisanaux », a geographical indication protecting industrial and handicraft products. It is the third geographical indication of an industrial and handicraft product approved by the INPI, after the « siège de Liffol » in December 2016 and the « granit de  Bretagne » in January 2017. The Limoges porcelain must be both produced and decorated in the Limoges geographical area.

The decision of INPI’s director granting this geographical indication was published on December 1st (p. 5 and following). It comprehensively details the requirements which must be respected to sustain the right to use this new geographical indication. It is an interesting read, as it explains why the porcelain made in the Limoges area is exceptional, details the history of the industry and explains the technical process. The industry is intimately liked to the area as Limoges was found be rich in very fine kaolin, so pure that it was nicknamed “white gold”.

A 2014 law opened up the geographical indication accreditation procedure to industrial and handicraft products. Before this law, only agricultural products and wines could benefit from geographical indication. The law was enacted following a much-commented judicial decision which had not recognized the right of the city of Laguiole to prevent the registration by a third party of “Laguiole” as a trade mark, in several classes. “Laguiole” is a valuable trade mark as “Laguiole” is a famous trade mark in France for knives.

Trade mark law is not an efficient way for cities, regions and other interested parties to protect the use of their names as a trade mark, as it would imply registering the geographical source as a trade mark in all classes, only to have to face a possible revocation of the mark after five years for lack of genuine use. This new geographical indication scheme was enacted to give interested parties an efficient way to protect their names against abusive trade mark registrations.

In order to be granted a geographical indication, a defence organization of the operators concerned must submit a list of requirements, which must

highlight “specific and objective criteria for demonstrating how the product can benefit from the geographical indication without risk of confusion for the consumer.” This includes the name of the geographical indication, the product, and the delimitation of the geographical area.

The applicant must also describe the “quality, reputation, traditional know-how or other characteristics of the product concerned that can be attributed essentially to that geographical area or location and the elements linking the product to the area geographic location or associated location [and] the description of the process of production, production and processing, including the production or processing operations that must take place in the geographical area or the specific place.”

It is particularly important to define the geographical area and to explain which elements of the production process affecting the specific elements of the product can be primarily attributed to the geographical area, and the link between the product and the quality control procedures which will be put in place.

Once the geographical indication has been granted, article L.711-4 d) of the French intellectual property Code forbids registering a mark which would infringe such geographical indication. As such, the process is an efficient way to prevent subsequent trade mark registrations. Trade marks registered prior to the grant of the geographical indication are not considered to be in conflict with the geographical indication, unless, under article L.713-6 of the French intellectual property Code, such prior trade mark “is the sole origin of the reputation or knowledge of the consumer of the product for which a geographical indication is requested.”

“Porcelain” is named “china” in English, reflecting that the process was first invented in… China. Could “Limoges” be one day used instead?”

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