Geographical indications in the United States

The United States offers protection, through its trademark system, to foreign and domestic geographical indications for all types of goods and services.

This occurs when a certain quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

According to information from the World Trade Organization (WTO), protection of geographical indications is usually granted in the form of certification marks and collective marks indicating regional origin.

Geographical indications are considered to be a subset of trademarks because, in the view of the United States, they perform the same source-identification functions as those marks even though they are specifically intended to identify the geographical source, and they constitute guarantees of quality and valuable commercial or business interests.

The U.S. geographical indication system uses trademark administrative structures.

The Trademark Organization of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) processes applications for geographical indications.

After the USPTO reviews applications for geographical indications as trademarks, or as certification marks or collective marks indicating regional origin, applications for geographical indications filed with the USPTO are published so that interested parties have the opportunity to oppose registration.

Geographical Indications

The Trademark Act provides that geographical names or signs may be registered as certification marks, understood as any words, names, symbols or instruments used by a party or parties other than the trademark owner to certify origin, and sets forth the specific standards that third parties must meet to affix the regional origin certification mark to their goods or services.

The Trademark Law differentiates certification marks indicating regional origin and trademarks on the basis of two characteristics: certification marks are not used by the holder; and certification marks do not indicate the commercial source or distinguish the goods or services of one person from those of another, which means that any entity that meets the criteria for certification is entitled to use the certification mark.

Where geographical indications are registered as a collective mark indicating regional origin, the geographical term must be disclaimed, unless it can be demonstrated that the term has acquired a distinctive character.

If geographical indications are registered as trademarks, the geographical term must not be misleading; and the applicant must demonstrate that the term has acquired distinctiveness or waive the exclusive right to use it.

According to a recent WIPO report, there were 606 geographical indications in force in the United States at the end of 2020.


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