The birth of a geographical indication system for Mexican cheeses (Yes, this is cool!)
As some of you may know, by day, I am a trademark/copyright lawyer. It’s not every day that I get to go into detail about BOTH cheese and trademark law with the same person, so imagine my delight at speaking with Carlos Yescas, co-owner of Lactography whose name regularly crops up on Culture. Lactography’s team, consisting of experts in accounting, logistics, food production, and safety, among other fields, is largely devoted to promoting artisanal Mexican cheeses in the United States. Outside of the cheese world, he is a trained lawyer (in Ireland) and is currently working toward his doctorate degree at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Before delving into the situation in Mexico, I’m going to have to explain a little bit the little corner of intellectual property law called geographical indications (yay!). Geographical indications are terms or symbols used to designate products from a specific region and sometimes, specific production methods. The implication is that not only do these products come from this specific region, they have unique qualities that are attributed solely to their unique region of origin. For instance, Washington apples from Washington state supposedly have certain qualities just because they grow in the unique environmental conditions of that state. The agave-based beverage known as tequila supposedly has unique properties that stem from being produced in specific areas of Mexico. In the U.S., geographical indicators are sort of lumped together with “traditional” trademarks (logos, slogans, etc.) in terms of implementation and execution. However, in other countries, geographical indicators are treated under separate areas of law. France and Italy are well-known defenders of their geographical indicators—think of sparkling Champagne or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Additionally, there is an area of intellectual property known as traditional knowledge (TK). TK is any know-how, inventions, or traditions of certain indigenous or local communities. For instance, the Hopi rain dance counts as a tradition that can fall under TK. Folk remedies may fall under the canopy of TK. Traditional recipes like folk remedies may fall under TK. Disputes surrounding TK often arise around ownership rights because, well, traditional knowledge is old. It is difficult to determine the origins of TK. Sometimes, knowledge spreads out over a wide geographic area or among many people.
Next post–what this all means for Mexican cheese!