Washington International Law Journal


Geographical indications identify the place of origin of a good and signify a distinctive quality, reputation, or other characteristic of the good that is essentially attributable to that geographic source. Besides serving as source-identifiers and guarantees of quality, they are valuable business interests. Consequently, World Trade Organization members are required to afford them protection under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Signatories are free to choose the legal means by which they comply with TRIPS. While a few states rely solely on unfair competition law to meet their obligations, most primarily rely on either trademark law or GI-specific laws often modeled on the appellation of controlled origin (“AOC”) system first developed by France. The People’s Republic of China utilizes both trademark law and GI-specific legislation. China would benefit from abandoning its AOC-type system of GI protection. Protecting GIs with both of the world’s primary protection systems generates uncertainty and conflict; the hierarchy of rights granted by the two systems is unclear. China’s AOC-type system of GI protection does not confer benefits beyond those provided by its trademark-based system of protection. China’s trademark-based system is not perfect, but it satisfies China’s international GI-protection obligations, better reflects the motivations behind China’s recent amendments to its intellectual property laws, and better serves China’s current economic and legal goals.

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