Prosecco, GIs and the possible EU FTA

The last few weeks have seen increasing rumblings within Australia about some of the consequences if a possible Free Trade Agreement with the EU goes through.

One of the main features the EU is seeking is expanded protection for the thousands of “GIs”, or geographical indications, recognised in the EU.

The potential impact of the EU FTA requiring Australian producers to stop calling their non-Italian products ‘prosecco’, a GI in the EU, has been generating some media excitement: see:

Professor Mark Davison and colleagues have a paper forthcoming in the AIPJ exploring the validity of the claims to protection [SSRN paper here]

We have been here before – when the EU-Australia Wine Agreement knocked out use of names like ‘champagne’ in return for greater access to the EU for Australian sparkling and other wines.

When the second version of that agreement replaced the 1994 version, the National Interest Assessment pointed out:

8. In 2006-07, Australia exported 421 million litres of wine to the EC with a value of $1.3 billion, and imported 10.2 million litres with a value of $168 million. Key regulatory and intellectual property issues related to trade in wine between Australia and the EC are currently regulated by the 1994 Agreement. 

9. The Agreement offers a number of advantages to Australian wine-growers, which will help consolidate their access to the EC market at a time when the domestic industry still faces concerns about an over-supply. The new Agreement also resolves several outstanding issues not covered by the 1994 Agreement, and thus will help maintain a mutually beneficial trade relationship with the EC.

10. In particular, the Agreement obliges the EC to permit the import and marketing of Australian wines produced using 16 additional wine-making techniques. It also sets out a simpler process for recognition of further techniques, with an option for disputes to be resolved by a binding arbitration. Under the 1994 Agreement, by contrast, the process for authorisation of new wine-making practices has no binding dispute settlement procedure, and no new practices have been authorised under the 1994 Agreement. This has been particularly problematic for Australian wines produced with an important wine-making technique involving the use of cation exchange resins to stabilise the wine. This technique was provisionally authorised for 12 months under the 1994 Agreement, and this authorisation has since had to be periodically extended for 12-month periods.

11. The Agreement also obliges the EC not to impose any new wine labelling requirements that are more restrictive than those which apply when the proposed Agreement comes into force. This means that industry will not face the difficulties and additional costs that might arise if the EC was permitted to introduce more onerous wine labelling requirements.

12. Finally, the Agreement obliges the EC to recognise and protect new Australian wine Geographical Indications. A Geographical Indication is a label or sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin.

How it will play out this time, who knows? As usual, the Australian government is keeping its position largely secret from us. The EU, however, is quite open about what it is seeking (Compare DFAT here and here and here to EU proposed text here see esp. article X.22 and from X.31 and generally).

Section 105(1A) passes its test

While some of us have been sweltering on the beach or disporting in the northern snows, Beach J has granted Branhaven’s application to amend its patent application for compositions and methods of inferring bovine traits following Meat & Livestock Australia’s opposition.

You will recall that Beach J had earlier rejected MLA’s attack based on manner of manufacture, novelty and inventive step. However, his Honour upheld the challenges based on lack of clarity and, to an extent, utility.

Branhaven applied to amend under s 105(1A) of the Patents Act 1990.

MLA opposed; in broad terms arguing that Branhaven was too late, there was no power to amend at this stage; the amendments were not permissible in any event and, as a matter of discretion, should not be allowed even if the Court did have power.

Prior to the Raising the Bar Amendments, the Court had power under s 60(4) to hear an appeal from the Commissioner’s decision in an opposition. The Court was restricted, however, to dealing with the application in the form the subject of the opposition before the Commissioner. If the opposition was successful but on grounds that could be cured, any application to amend had to be remitted to the Commissioner.[1] Two of the amendments introduced by Raising the Bar were s 105(1A) and s 112A. Section 105(1A) provides:

If an appeal is made to the Federal Court against a decision or direction of the Commissioner in relation to a patent application, the Federal Court may, on the application of the applicant for the patent, by order direct the amendment of the patent request or the complete specification in the manner specified in the order.

MLA argued that, after such a hotly contested ‘appeal’ and detailed reasons, Beach J was in effect functus officio. Amongst other things, MLA’s application was not made during the appeal and the Court therefore had no power to deal with the amendment application.

Beach J has rejected all these attacks. In the course of doing so, his Honour recognised it would not be appropriate to remit the matter to the Commissioner (even if there were power). His Honour also found that s 105(1A), like s 105(1) but unlike the Commissioner’s powers under s 60, was discretionary. His Honour’s reasons also explored the types of considerations that might affect the exercise of that discretion in the context of an application instead of a granted patent.

At this stage, it is not known if MLA will seek to appeal.

Meat & Livestock Australia Limited v Cargill, Inc (No 2) [2019] FCA 33