Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Types of intellectual property include patents, trademarks, industrial design, copyright AND Geographical Indications.

This knowledge helps to enhance the reputation and economy.

But why is this useful for food? In two ways:

  • food can be the result of a special and unique recipe or formula, in this case, it would be registered with a Trademark.
  • the local and traditional food that are the result of generations of inherited knowledge, in which case we would be talking about a Geographical Indication.

In this article you’re going to learn:

Intellectual property and food products

What are Geographical Indications?


Geographical Indications and trademarks

Why is traditional food considered the intellectual property of a territory?

A product belongs to the intellectual property of a delimited area when it possesses qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. In legal terms, this intellectual property translates into a protected geographical indication.

What are Geographical Indications?

Geographical indications (GIs) are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and own qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are attributable to that place of origin.

A geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods. The term applies to wines, spirits, and agricultural products. A GI enhances the value of the products on the international trade market but also the land rent of the production area.

There are three types of Geographical Indications (GI): Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG). 

Types of Geographical Indications

Protected Designation of Origin PDO

To be eligible as a PDO, the production from beginning to end must take place in the delimited area whose name the product bears. There must be a proven link between the features of the product and its geographical origin.

Protected Geographical Indication PGI

A PGI product gets that designation as long as a certain stage of the production process takes place in the delimited region. Unlike the PDO, it is enough that one of the stages of production has taken place in the defined area. For example, the raw materials used in production may have come from another region.

Traditional Specialty Guaranteed TSG

The TSG refers to a product that has a specific quality related to a tradition. This registration is more applicable for recipes than products. But it is the most lenient of EU food designations as it doesn’t restrict a food item to a geographical area, as the other designations do. The emphasis is on the product made with “traditional” ingredients, or techniques, rather than being on the place where it is made.

The application system is voluntary and open. Any producer situated in the territory and meeting the conditions described in the specification can use the registered designation.

By way of illustration let’s take a look at some examples:

Manchego cheese Protected Designation of Origin

It is one of the most famous Spanish cheese.

Geographical Indication Manchego cheese
Manchego cheese PDO
  • It is a hard cheese
  • made from Manchegan breed sheep
  • more than 30 days of maturation

And it has a strong link with the territory:

Since ancient times the inhabitants of this region dedicated to shepherding and cheese making. Proof of this is the remains found in the area, of basins, perforated vessels, cheesemakers and other utensils.

Manchego cheese appears in some quotes from historical and literary documents. For instance, in the ‘Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha’, Don Miguel de Cervantes links Manchego cheese to La Mancha.

Manchego cheese is a PDO and so all elements of the product happen in the defined geographical area. Be it the raw material, its preparation and packaging.

‘’Irish Whiskey/Uisce Beatha Eireannach”, Protected Geographical Indication

It is one of the oldest spirit drinks in Europe. Distilling in Ireland began in the 6th century when religious monks brought to Ireland the technique used to create perfumes and “Eau de Vie” “Water of Life”.

The Gaelic translation of Water of Life “Uisce Beatha” evolved into the English word Whiskey.

Irish whiskey
Irish Whiskey PGI

Distinctive characteristics of Irish Whiskey:

  • it ranges in colour from pale gold to dark amber
  • it is distilled from cereals (malted and unmalted barley)
  • triple distillation
  • use of wooden casks for maturation
  • copper pot stills instead of column stills for distillation

This product has a history, reputation, human factors and an environment that favoured the development of a unique product.

In this case, the quality of the Irish Whiskey is because of its geographical origin. But one of the elements of the product, in this case, the barley, does not necessarily come from the area, this is why it is a PGI and not a PDO.

Amatriciana Tradizionale TSG

It is the recipe of a sauce for pasta typical of the gastronomic tradition of Amatrice, a town in Italy.

The sauce is composed of:

  • Amatrice pork cheek sautéed with dry white wine,
  • San Marzano tomato or alternatively quality peeled tomato,
  • Amatrice pecorino cheese (from the Sibillini Mountains or the Laga Mountains),
  • extra virgin olive oil,
  • fresh or dried chilli pepper,
  • salt and pepper.
Amatriciana Tradizionale STG
Amatriciana Tradizionale STG

The “Amatriciana Tradizionale” boasts a strong traditionality and specificity in consideration of the ingredients used, the specific method of preparation and also the peculiar social and economic characteristics of the Monti della Laga area, from which the preparation originates.

In particular, the use of seasoned cheek lard transposes into the ‘Amatriciana Tradizionale’ the bond that has characterised man’s centuries-long relationship with a difficult territory.


In the past, local shepherds, during the period of transhumance (which forced them away from home for a period of 4 to 5 months, generally from May to September) brought with them, for their sustenance, some products that were easy and long-lasting, such as bacon and flour.

With these simple ingredients, the shepherds seasoned and cooked their frugal and substantial pasta dish with a long handle iron pan.

Transhumance in Italy

Geographical Indications and Trademarks

They serve the same end, but Geographical indications and trademarks are not the same things.

Both Geographical Indications and Trademarks promote and protect a product and allow consumers to associate a particular quality with it.

Trademarks VS Geographical Indications

But they are different in many aspects:

Identification: A GI identifies a product bounded to a place in particular and a trademark links the product to a company.

Name: the name of a geographical area determines a GI name, and a trademark consists of a fanciful or arbitrary sign.

Use: Anyone from anywhere in the world can have trademarks. But for GIs, only the producers in the delimited area who produce the good according to specific standards can use the label.

GI users can prevent the misuse of the registration by a third party whose product does not conform to the applicable standards or a producer that is not located in the delimited area.

Take, for example, Darjeeling Tea PGI:
Darjeeling map

Darjeeling Tea PGI is a fine tea infusion produced exclusively in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal State, India.

The taste is sweet, delicate and lively at the same time. The aroma and scent are floral.

Darjeeling logo

For being a Geographical Indication, in the Darjeeling GI jurisdiction:

– Producers of Darjeeling tea can use the term “Darjeeling” for tea grown in their tea gardens respecting the specifications.

Tea picker in Darjeeling jurisdiction

– They can prevent the use of the name ‘Darjeeling’ for the tea not produced according to the specifications and/or produced out of the GI jurisdiction.

Yet, the law does not enable the GI holder to prevent someone from making a similar product using the techniques explained in the standard.

Do you have PGIs, PDO or TSG in your country? What do you think about the intellectual property applied to food?

Let me know in the comments!