Consultations on protecting EU Geographical Indications

IP Australia has published a Consultation Paper on a possible new Geographical Indications Right.

You probably know we are not supposed to call a fizzy or bubbly alcoholic beverage made from grapes “Champagne” unless it comes from that special part of France (that’s France in the EU, not Texas).[1]

This, and a range of other prohibitions, stem originally from the Australia-EU Wine agreement (and its successors) back in the 1990s which was supposed to give our wine producers much easier access to the EU market in return for respecting their cultural properties. (I’m not sure if anyone has ever undertaken an empirical assessment to see how that worked out.)

As previously reported, our Government and the EU are in the throes of negotiating a more wide ranging Free Trade Agreement. As part of those negotiations, the EU wants Australian law to significantly broaden the number and scope of EU “geographical indications”[2] which are protected to include a further 236 spirit (as in alcoholic beverages) names and 172 agricultural and other names.

The Consultation Paper is a further round in seeking input on this proposal. Now, it is important to note, that the Consultation Paper does state:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

It appears that, in addition to protecting any EU GIs ultimately agreed, what the Government is now considering would put in place a mechanism for registration of new or additional GIs as well.

The Consultation Paper itself sets out 11 questions on which comments are particularly sought:

Registering a GI

Q.1 What types of goods should be eligible for protection as a GI?

Q.2 Should GIs filed under a new system cover a single good or multiple goods?

Q.3 Are there particular safeguards that should be considered for a new GI right?

Q.4 Under what circumstances should two rights, for example a new GI and an earlier trade mark, be able to co-exist?

Q.5 What level of detail should be required for any conditions of use, such as production methods, boundaries and what it means for a product to come from the region?

Standard of protection vQ.6 Should a new GI right extend the international standard of protection for wines and spirits to all goods? Are there other practices that should be prevented?

Using a GI right

Q.7 Who should be able to apply for a GI in Australia?

Q.8 Should those who meet the requirements of a GI be able to use the GI automatically, or should they need approval from the GI right holder?

Enforcing GIs

Q.9 Should any user be able to enforce a GI or should it be limited to the GI right holder?

Q.10 Should criminal enforcement be available for GIs registered in Australia?

Costs and Benefits

Q.11 What would be the costs and benefits to Australian industry, producers, and consumers of creating a new GI right?

Did I mention, the Consultation Paper does make clear:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

The Consultation Paper mentions that a common thread in submissions from the earlier round was the need to ensure that GIs could not be used to stop the continued use of food names already in common use. It envisages that there would be an opportunity to oppose registration on the basis that the term is a common or generic name for “a plant variety or animal breed” in Australia.

It’s not clear if the grounds of opposition would be limited to common or generic terms which are names of a plant variety or animal breed, or they are just examples of what might be common or generic terms.[3] (It should be noted that the wine producers who were using “champagne”, “burgundy”, “claret” and the like didn’t get to oppose those GIs.)

Moreover, p. 2 of the Consultation Paper does note that in the previous round of consultations people could object to the EU’s proposed lists of further GIs but, if Australia agrees to protect any of them as part of the FTA, they will not go through the application and opposition process. They will go straight on to the Register.

But remember:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

On the subject of the Register, the Consultation Paper envisages that there would be a new Register created through amendment of the Trade Marks Act 1995. Hopefully, that would bring in all the currently protected GIs as well. Hopefully, it would also be more integrated and searchable than the current hotch potch.

On the more positive side, the Consultation Paper does say (p.3) that protection would not extend to a term like “camembert” alone if the GI registered was “Camembert de Normandie”.

On the other hand, the EU is seeking protection against uses which “evoke” a registered GI. On p. 5, the Consultation Paper notes that:

in the EU a producer has been prevented from selling whisky labelled ‘Glen Buchenbach’ because ‘glen’ (meaning ‘valley’) is a term used in Scotland and was found to evoke the GI ‘Scotch Whisky’. As another example, cheese sold in packaging with images of windmills and sheep was found to evoke the Spanish GI ‘Queso Manchgeo’[4] because those images are typical of the region in Spain where the GI is produced.

Maybe camembert is made in other parts of France than Normandy? What happens if that were to change and only the Normandy producers could use camembert “over there”? How would you test whether (presumably) Australian consumers would associate windmills and sheep with Don Quixote country? Don’t the Dutch have sheep? Would it matter what kind of windmill? Would the test be what Australian consumers would understand?

According to the Consultation Paper, consultations are open until 30 November 2020. In addition, there:

  • is GI Survey (you may have to agree to the privacy policy etc. before you get in);
  • will be a Webinar – outline of GI consultation on 30 September at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be a Virtual Roundtable – Standard of protection on 13 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – Australian use of GIs on 15 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – General operation of a possible GI system on 20 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – GIs and Indigenous Knowledge on 22 October at 12 noon to 1pm

Links and more information about these via this page.

So, while:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

we can hardly claim we are not being properly consulted.


  1. We are also not supposed to use “traditional expressions” on our wines. These matters are currently regulated under the Wine Australia Act 2013. There is a rudimentary overview with links to the Register of protected expressions here.  ?
  2. The Consultation Paper defines a “geographical indication” as “a name that identifies a product as originating in a country, region or locality where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to that geographic origin.” The definition in s 4 of the Wine Australia Act is in much the same terms, but limited to “wine goods”.  ?
  3. Although it is headed “Commercial in confidence”, a Google search on “yarra valley fetta” turned up this impassioned defence of “fetta” / “feta” as a common or generic term (but not, I think a plant variety or breed of animal).  ?
  4. I suspect that is Manchego. But it looks like Coles would be safe.  ?

Big Mac sues Big Jack

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun – it’s a …

As you have no doubt heard, late last month McDonald’s Asia Pacific sued Hungry Jacks following the launch in July of the “Big Jack”.[1]

Michaela Whitbourn at the Channel 9 paper has a clean slide over comparison or you can get messy fingers here (your choice whether you skip the ads or not).

Mr Too Aussie’s video suggests the Big Jack is a special or limited time offer. However, Hungry Jack’s did file for and has obtained registration for “Big Jack” as a trade mark, No 2050899, for hamburgers etc. in classes 29 and 30, way back in November 2019. And Ben Butler at The Guardian reports McDonalds is also seeking revocation of that registration on the grounds the application was made in bad faith.[2]

After news of the court proceeding broke, Hungry Jack’s doubled down:

Someone’s suing Hungry Jack’s. They reckon Aussies are confusing the Big Jack with some American burger. But the Big Jack is clearly bigger ….

Hmmm. Earlier this year, Katzman J, in another case about burgers, explained:

What is the line between inspiration and appropriation? That is the question at the heart of the dispute in the present case.

That case didn’t turn out so well for the emulators.

As you will appreciate, McDonald’s have to get TM No. 2050899 cancelled in light of s 122(1)(e). Presumably, in addition to the “bad faith” allegation, McDonald’s is also asserting s 44 and s 60.

These provisions, like s 120, raise the question whether Big Jack is substantially identical with, or deceptively similar to, Big Mac.

You might think, even on the expanded and controversial test for “substantial identity” declared in Pham Global, the side by side comparison doesn’t work out in McDonald’s favour. Mac and Jack look and sound different and, you might think, convey rather different ideas.

What about deceptive similarity tested on the basis of imperfect recollection?

There couldn’t be too many Australians, especially of the fast food consuming public, who wouldn’t appreciate that Big Jack is gunning for Big Mac. But, is there a real and appreciable risk that a significant number of them would be caused at least to wonder whether there was some association with McDonald’s?[3]

Also, you would have to think, all those ordinary Australians would know you can only get a Big Mac in a McDonald’s outlet.

You would probably have to think they pretty much know Hungry Jack’s is a direct competitor, which makes a point of being critical of McDonald’s.[4]

Similarly, pretty much all those ordinary Australians winding up in a Hungry Jack’s take away could hardly be under any illusions that they were in Big Mac land?

Now, at 50(iii), French J did wholly orthodoxly say:

In considering whether there is a likelihood of deception or confusion all surrounding circumstances have to be taken into consideration. These include the circumstances in which the marks will be used, the circumstances in which the goods or services will be bought and sold and the character of the probable acquirers of the goods and services.

Does being in the shop count? Or is that violating the rule that you compare only the allegedly infringing trade mark to the registered trade mark?

What about billboards and the like? No shop context, probably a Hungry Jack’s logo – maybe not.

Also, you might think that “Big Mac” gets into the Woolworths territory of a household name and there could have lots of fun re-running the fight between Woolworths and Henschke.[5]

What do you think?

Would things be any different if we had an anti-dilution law?

Maybe, at 50c to almost $1 more, the Big Jack will turn out to be a commercial flop and Hungry Jack’s will give up. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Lid dip: Jasper Kwok


  1. And, by way of fig leaf, Hungry Jack’s also introduced a “Mega Jack”. NSD967/2020 – First case management hearing before Justice Burley on 2 October.  ?
  2. Shades of “merit” and “nerit”, but note the interesting approach in OHIM rejecting Banksy’s – or those representing him – attempt to “trade mark” one of his, er, graffiti.  ?
  3. See Registrar of Trade Marks v Woolworths at [50] per French J.  ?
  4. Just exactly whose burgers are Hungry Jack’s supposed to be better than?  ?
  5. Most recently addressed in the AMG case at [36] – [42]: The more famous your trade mark, the less likely people will recall it imperfectly.  ?

The Aboriginal Flag

As you know, the Aboriginal Flag has been in the news a fair bit – the AFL even had to abandon plans to paint representations of it on footy grounds for the Indigenous Round: here, here and here.

Mr Thomas, the acknowledged author of the flag’s fantastic design,[^f2] has licensed it to various companies for different types of use including WAM Clothing. WAM Clothing has been making headlines aggressively enforcing its rights, including threatening the AFL for copyright infringement.

Now, the Senate has established a Select Committee to investigate what is to be done!

The terms of reference are (in full):

That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag, be established to inquire into and report on current and former copyright and licensing arrangements for the Aboriginal flag design, with particular reference to: 

a. who benefits from payments for the use of the Aboriginal Flag design and the impact on Aboriginal organisations, Aboriginal communities and the broader Australian community of the current copyright and licensing arrangements; 

b. options available to the Government to enable the Aboriginal Flag design to be freely used by the Australian community, including:

i. negotiated outcomes with licence and/or copyright holders:

ii. the compulsory acquisition of licences and/or copyright,

iii. ways to protect the rights and interests of the flag’s legally recognised creator Mr Harold Thomas; and

c. any other matters relevant to the enduring and fair use of the Aboriginal Flag design by the Aboriginal and Australian community.

Click the terms of reference here.

The fun part: if you are wanting to make a submission, you need to get it in by 18 September 2020 as the Committee is due to report by 13 October.

We thought we had come a long from the days when the Commonwealth Government (in the guise of the Reserve Bank) could appropriate David Malangi’s artwork for the wonderful design of the (now defunct) one dollar note; Johnny Bulun Bulun and a later group of artists including George Milpurrurru rightly successfully asserted their copyrights over blatant infringers.

Now, however, it seems many people think Mr Thomas shouldn’t have the same rights.

While Minister Wyatt ruled out buying the copyright last year, this year it seems that Mr Thomas might be refusing to sell or this Senate inquiry might be upsetting the negotiations.

Placitum (xxxi) of s 51 of the Constitution does give the Commonwealth power to compulsorily acquire property on just terms:

(xxxi) the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws;

and, of course, placitum (xviii) confers power to make laws with respect to, amongst other things, “copyright”. It seems difficult to argue that a law to acquire one person’s copyright would not be a law with respect to copyright.[^f1]

Of course, an assignee of copyright takes subject to any licences that had previously been granted (and are still on foot): Copyright Act 1968 s 196(4). So, the Commonwealth would also have to have some power under the licence to Wam Clothing to terminate it or, presumably, acquire its property on just terms too.

[[^f2]: According to Shephard J’s judgment in Thomas, the Governor-General proclaimed the artistic work to be the flag of the Aboriginal People under s 5 of the Flags Act, back in July 1995. It seems from Sheppard J’s judgment, Mr Thomas came up with the design for use at the Aboriginal Day rally in Adelaide in 1971 “off his own bat”.

[^f1]: There are also the murky possibilities of placitum (xxvi).