Geographical indications: the IP right that separates Northern Ireland from Great Britain

There has been a lot of recent discussion of issues with the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. This has largely focussed on the difficulties for goods being transported between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, as a result of the Brexit deal, Northern Ireland now differs from Great Britain in one important aspect of intellectual property: geographical indications.

What are geographical indications?

Geographical indicationsA form of intellectual property, geographical indications (GIs) are a way of protecting food, drink or agricultural products that have a strong connection with a particular geographical area or that are made using traditional methods. Examples of products protected by GIs include the Melton Mowbray pork pie, Fenland celery, Scotch whiskey, Stilton cheese and Scottish salmon.

Having a GI allows businesses to leverage the value of their geographically unique products, and also inform and attract consumers.

Two separate systems

Prior to Brexit, the GI system covering the UK was an EU scheme that included all EU member states. After Brexit the scheme split into two:

  • an EU system that covers all EU member states and Northern Ireland
  • a UK system that covers Great Britain

More specifically, the EU system protects registered product names when they are sold in the EU or Northern Ireland. The UK scheme protects registered product names when they are sold in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

The first ‘Britain only’ GIs

All geographical indications protected under the EU scheme on 31 December 2020 are protected under both the UK and EU schemes. Therefore, there is no issue with British GIs protected prior to 31 December 2020 covering Northern Ireland.

However, the first Britain only geographical indications are now being registered. The very first was Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, registered on 11 August 2021. This product name is now protected in Great Britain, but not necessarily in Northern Ireland. To protect the name in Northern Ireland, EU protection will be required.  Northern Ireland producers can apply to one or both schemes but, importantly, only EU protection will provide cover when the products are sold in Northern Ireland.

For more information about geographical indications, or to find out how best to protect your IP, please get in touch with the Serjeants team. You can call us on +44 (0) 116 233 2626 or send an enquiry here.