Denominations of Origins: What are those?

A DENOMINATION OF ORIGIN (also known as APPELLATION OF ORIGIN) is a special kind of geographical indication generally consisting of a geographical name or a traditional designation used on products which have a specific quality or characteristics that are essentially due to the geographical environment in which they are produced.

These denominations of origin become relevant because consumers familiar with these products, will often request them – even unknowingly – using their geographical name. As intellectual property practitioners, we are aware that it is not simply a matter of having a quality product that has a place of origin that makes it unique and which can be recognized by a traditional name or geographical area. Obtaining a geographical indication is a long and often difficult process, not always rewarded with success.

The region of Oaxaca, Mexico, recently won a round in its efforts to limit the denomination of origin for MEZCAL, the state’s spirit. A federal judge had ordered the suspension of an expansion of the beverage’s denomination of origin that included several municipalities in the state of Aguascalientes. The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) decided back in August 2018 to expand mezcal’s denomination of origin region to include municipalities in the states of Aguascalientes, México, Morelos and Puebla. Oaxaca fought such decision and now Aguascalientes is off the list. However, the issue of the remaining three states is still being considered by the judge.

The Lisbon Agreement of 1958 was made to adopt a common definition of the concept of denomination of origin and to create a union for their protection and international registration. According to the World Trade Organization, denominations of origin are located within a large group known as geographical indications, of which wines and spirits follow the WTO Agreements: TRIPS, Article 23. The history of denominations of origin in Mexico began with the 1958 Lisbon Agreement, of which this country was one of the six signatories. Far from the tradition of denominations of origin, Mexico slowly developed the concept in Latin America using the model of tequila to issue its first law in 1972 recognizing the protection of the Denomination of Origin Tequila. The name of a geographical region of the country which serves to designate a product as originating from that area, and whose quality or characteristics are due exclusively to the geographical environment, include both the natural and human factors involved. In Mexico, the general declarations of the protection of denominations of origin are issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), published in the Diario Oficial de la Federacion (DOF), and indicate both product and territory. One example showing the importance of such DENOMINATION OF ORIGIN classification in Mexico is TEQUILA. Tequila production is governed by federal regulations that define where it can be made, where the agave plants to make it can be grown, what has to be stated on the label, where it can be bottled and how much of the content must be made from what percentage of agave sugars. When a bottle is labeled “Tequila” - you know it’s the real thing.

The Official Mexican Standards (NOM) are issued by the Ministry of the Economy and published in the DOF, specifying the raw material, manufacturing process and labeling, among others. The legend “100%” on the label indicates that the spirit is made exclusively with raw materials specified. If this legend is not present, it is a mixed product that will contain other sugars in the percentage accepted by the NOM.

A great victory for Oaxaca to remove Aguascalientes but this battle is not over. According to local authorities, the state of Oaxaca will continue to work to “strengthen the commercialization of the Oaxacan beverage” in domestic and international events, “because mezcal is an ancestral state beverage.” Despite that statement, many other states in Mexico, including (1) Durango, (2) Guanajuato, (3) Guerrero, (4) Michoacán, (5) San Luis Potosí, (6) Puebla, (7) Tamaulipas and (8) Zacatecas, are listed in the current denomination of origin, and can produce and sell the distilled maguey beverage called MEZCAL. We shall wait and see what happens next in the MEZCAL Denomination of Origin fight.

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