Protecting Geographical Indications in an African context: The South African Rooibos saga and its aftermath
Geographical indications (GIs) are used to identify a good as originating in the territory of a specific country, or a region or locality in that country, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. GIs can acquire a considerable reputation and commercial value and for these reasons, may fall prey to misappropriation, misuse and counterfeiting. This is why it is widely recognised that they need to be protected. The GI category is generally recognised as a separate type of intellectual property (IP).
Broadly speaking, there are three major conditions for the recognition of a sign as a GI: It must relate to a good or goods, as opposed to say a service; the good must originate from a defined area; and the good must have qualities, reputation or other characteristics which are clearly linked to its geographical origin.
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is one of several Cape fynbos plants that have traditionally been used in South Africa to brew tea and cure ailments. The Rooibos experience is a highly relevant topic for those taking an interest in Trade Law and IP Law and, in the South African context, there are a few questions which should be raised. Firstly, when and how the South African protection for the Rooibos GI will be updated to reflect the full set requirements set out in the EU’s entry of Rooibos into its register of PDOs? Second, will the lessons learnt plus the availability of a formalised mechanism dedicated to the protection of GIs (even if limited to certain products for now) will assist South African producers in their pursuit of GIs that will add value to their products. Thirdly, whether the precedents set in the EU (and now the UK), will assist South Africa in broadening the protection its GIs may enjoy in other parts of the world.
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