Romanian geographical indicators go European as system is harmonised
Geographical indications and designations of origin
The old system
Romania’s accession to the European Union in January 2007 has brought significant changes in many areas of national law, including in relation to industrial property. In this regard, an order issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development came into force in November 2007. Order 906/30.10.2007 deals with new procedures for obtaining protection for geographical indications and designations of origin. It is designed to harmonise the national system with the European system for protecting geographical indications and designations of origin.
Geographical indications and designations of origin
Both geographical indications and designations of origin are terms (ie, the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country) used to describe an agricultural product or a foodstuff originating in a certain geographical area. The geographical link is stronger for indications of origin than for geographical indications. Thus, where a designation of origin is concerned, the quality or characteristics of the product are essentially or exclusively due to the particular geographical environment, with its inherent natural and human factors. The production, processing and preparation of the product must also take place in that defined geographical area. In the case of geographical indications, the product possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin. However, the raw materials may originate elsewhere or certain operations of the production process may take place outside the defined geographical area.
The old system
According to the provisions of Law 84/1998 on Trademarks and Geographical Indications, geographical indications for products are protected in Romania through registration with the Romanian Patent and Trademark Office (RPTO) and may be used exclusively by persons that produce or manufacture the products for which the geographical indications have been registered. Further, the law expressly provides that the RPTO will register the geographical indication in the National Register of Geographical Indications and grant the applicant the right to use it, provided that all necessary certifications from the Ministry of Agriculture are obtained.
In essence this procedure must be performed before two different authorities. The ministry certifies:
- the geographical indication of the product whose registration was applied for;
- the products that may be marketed under the geographical indication in question;
- the geographical area of production; and
- the characteristics and production requirements to be met by the products in order to be marketed under the indication.
In addition, the RPTO:
- issues the decision for the registration of geographical indications in the national register;
- grants the applicant the right to use the indication;
- publishes the indication in the Official Bulletin for Industrial Property; and
- issues the certificate of registration of the geographical indication.
Pursuant to the rules laid down by the new order, an applicant must take the following steps in order to secure protection for a registration at national and Community levels (national protection cannot coexist with Community protection - as soon as the latter comes into effect, the former ceases):
- An application is filed to register the geographical indication or designation of origin with the Ministry of Agriculture. Only a ‘group’ (defined as any association, irrespective of the legal form or composition, of producers or processors working with the same agricultural product or foodstuff) is entitled to file an application. The application must also meet specific legal requirements and must be accompanied by the product specification and by a single document setting out the main points of the specification (ie, the name, a description of the product, a concise definition of the geographical area) and a description of the link between the product and the geographical environment or origin, including the specific elements of the product's description or production method that justify this link.
- The application is then scrutinised by the ministry in order to check that it is justified and meets all the legal requirements. In the case of incomplete documentation, a 30-day period may be granted for filing additional documents.
- Following this scrutiny, the application is published on the ministry’s website for an objection period of 60 days, during which any natural or legal person established in Romania may lodge an objection.
- If no objections are raised, the application will be registered in the national register (which is also published on the ministry’s website). Protection at national level is obtained from the date on which the geographical indication or the designation of origin is entered in the register.
- The application is then forwarded to the European Commission by the ministry, with a view to obtaining protection at Community level. National protection for the geographical indication or designation of origin shall cease at the moment that Community-level protection is acquired.
Apparently, these new rules simplify the procedure, as they make the ministry the sole authority for dealing with registrations. However, it appears that the provisions in the Trademarks Law concerning the registration of geographical indications with the RPTO, referred to above, have not been expressly repealed. Moreover, proposed amendments to the law, which should be enacted soon, define the national register as a database administered by the RPTO containing the geographical indications registered in Romania; the amendments also update the registration procedure to include an objection period. Both these provision raise the question of whether the RPTO will still play a role in the registration process.
In view of this, the introduction of a new protection system for geographical indications and designations of origin represents a significant step forward for Romania. Harmonisation with the Community approach will help to ensure fair competition between producers and enhance consumer confidence in products. However, Romania still needs to amend its own legislation in order to ensure harmonisation not only with Community regulations and directives, but also between its own national laws.
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