Due to its role in the advancement of of entertainment and pharmaceutical interests within the GATT-TRIPS negotiations of the 1980s, the United States is typically assigned the role of bully in the international intellectual property sphere (for an excellent account see Drahos and Braithwaite’s “Information Feudalism”). Viewed in combination with its bilateral trade agreements, foisting stringent IP rules on smaller, poorer nations, this is somewhat understandable. But such a reading obscures the role of the European Union. Since the 1980s, key business organizations within the EU such as UNICE have functioned as a key vector for the same policy messages. In more recent times these ideas have been fully integrated into numerous aspects of institutional activity at an EU level. In what follows I will outline some developments at the level of trade policy since 2002.
The new phase was confirmed in a 2004 communication from the Commission Communication “Strategy for the enforcement of intellectual property rights in third countries“ (hereinafter Strategy), which listed eight elements considered essential to the campaign. Several of these recall practices long established in the US. The thrust of the strategy was confirmed in a major policy document issued by DG Trade in autumn 2006, “Global Europe: Competing in the World”, regarded as signalling the relaunch of a bilateral approach to trade negotiation, and marking the dimming of the multilateral phase which in the IPR sphere produced both TRIPS and the two treaties (WCT and WPPT) at WIPO in 1996.
Pursuing the New Approach
1. Watch Lists
The first task defined in the Strategy is the identification of ‘priority countries’, analogous to the s.301 report produced annually since the 1980s by USTR, deemed the source of egregious infringements of European rightsholders.
Near the town of Hammondsport on Lake Keuka, New York State, there lies a winery once known as the Great Western Wine Company. Established in 1860, the vineyards won their owners many medals for their still wines, but as the market for Champagne exploded they transferred much of their attention to the production of sparkling wine. Henry Vizetelly, an afficionado of all things bubbly, writes that the grape varieties used were “concord and the isabella” amongst the ‘black-skinned grapes’ and catwba, diana, iona, delaware and walter. All somewhat novel fare to those schooled in the blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.
Not content with calling this entirely different drink Champagne, the entrepreneurial New Yorkers went a step further. Near Hammondsport are located towns with names such as Bath, Bradford and even Tyrone, and the United States Postal Service, patriots to the bone, agreed to install a post office on the winery’s property, and give it the geographical name Rheims. Coincidentally the capital of the Champagne region in France is Reims. For those who regard the highlighting of this similarity as ungenerous, there is a knock-out blow. Initially most Champagne was sweet, including the famous Roederer Kristal, favourite refreshment of the Russian Czar, but from the mid-nineteenth century a dry, brut, version became increasingly popular. Pioneering specialist of this path-breaking style was Louise Pommery, who established her Pommery & Greno as the pre-eminent dry Champagne producer from the early 1870s. To cash in on her goodwill, the Great Western Wine Company recruited a widow by the name of Pommery during a fact-finding mission to France in the 1880s. At this point they could launch their wine labelled as “House of Pommery”, “Rheims”!
Wine is still produced in the Lake Keuka area of New York (and many others besides); I have a bottle of New York Riesling from Washingtonville here in front of me. There is still a winery on the site of the Great Western Wine Company, now named Pleasant’s View, open to visitors and still making Champagne. Some day I’d like to try it! In the meantime it’s another tale of two centuries to stick in the face of intellectual property extremists: the US employed all the guile and imagination at its disposal to build itself up after decolonization. Why are they stopping recently decolonized states doing likewise through the World Trade Organization, TRIPs and bilateral trade agreeements? African and south-east asian states may not have much need for champagne, but accessible medicines and textbooks might be the useful…
This and other similar tales are recounted in:
Champagne: The Wine, the Land, the People by Patrick Forbes, 1967.
Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don and Petie Kladstrup, 2005.
During May I was in the south west of France for work, and when discipline allowed it, to drink. Our base was in a small town near Agen, but I took the oppurtunity to sample wines from the Languedoc which is effectively the next production area to the east, where value is good and some rarities are to be had, such as the delicious white Picpoul, which I’d recommend as an accompaniment to delicate fish.
Whilst researching the history of the zone I unearthed a lot of documentation around the winemakers rebellion which spread like wildfire through the region in 1907, catalyst for the Appelation (AOC) system. Many small producers had their backs to the wall due to a collapse in the market price. This precipitous decrease was provoked by winemakers elsewhere adding sugar to the must so as to increase the alcohol levels of their wines, a process known as chaptalization. As the economic situation tightened, producers set up committees to protest at what they regarded as a scam, led by Marcellin Albert. Mass demonstrations involving up to 180,000 people were held in towns such as Perpignan and Narbonne. Town councils resigned, a tax strike declared, police stations attacked, and winemakers marched singing the Internationale. Barricades were erected in many towns and Clemenceau — a Prime Minister with great repressive zeal — sent in the army. On June 19th 1907, soldiers shot dead at least five people in Narbonne, and the rebellion was repressed. Shortly afterwards the AOC system was established so as to better control the tricks of adulteration which were in wide use, although it was to be another thrity years before an institution was set up to manage the system.
Via Fiorenzo, I learned of the latest wine adulteration scam in Italy. This time 20,000 bottles of unidentified champagne were found in the Piedmont region around Cuneo and Alessandria, although others were arrested as far away as Bari and Bergamo. The bottles had no label and were valued at around a euro each. The bottles were to be given labels for non-existent brands such as “Paul Gilbert”, “Henry Flaubert” and “Pierre Plantard”, and sold for 35 euro! So, if you should happen to have a bottle of this appellation in the fridge…
Yesterday the region of Veneto in the Italian north-east decided that a wine formerly known as Tocai will be renamed “Tai” from end of March 2007. Last year their neighbours in Friuli already decided to change the name of its Tocai to Friuliano. In a move seemingly designed to confuse non-enophiles, “Tai ” actually means glass in the Friulian, one of only two ‘minor’ languages – with Sardinian – officially recognised in Italy. In addition people in those parts like to have a drink for themselves more frequently than elsewhere on the peninsula and the place is littered with little bars where one enters and asks for a tai. Now the Veneti speak funny, but they don’t speak Friulian, so what’s this about? Like to trademark-litigate anybody?
All this commotion in designations derives from the European Court of Justice’s decision in 2005 that henceforth only Haungarian producers from around Tokaj would be permitted to use anything resembling Tokaji. There are several ironies here, not least that Italian Tocai is made with a vine of the same name. Secondly the Hungarian wine is made using four different grapes, the most important of which Furmint, was apparently imported from friuli in the seventeenth century. Apparently some dogged fellow is trying to leverage the last fact to haver the case reopened. To compound the confusion there are also Tokay wines from the Alsasce region of France made from pinot grigio.
Friuli is a region whose wines are massively underrated, largely because most of the good stuff is white and they are overshadowed by Piedmont and Tuscany. So this is a hot tip: get yourself some Ribolla Gialla wine, a plate of proper San Daniele, some Montasio cheese with a Piccolit and/or Rifosco jam…
Being Christmas, what’s the point in posting about matters other than the pleasures of the fleash, the gut, the gullet. For the second year I’m spending these days in the south west of france, amongst the string of bastide villages an hour from Toulouse that once formed a military belt between france and Brit-occupied Aquitaine (Bordeaux at its centre). For the duration I have suspended my fanatical meditation on Italian wine and embraced the offerings the region has to offer. Whilst just eighty minutes from Bordeaux city, thus forty from some of its great vineyards, the wines of the south west are quite distinct. You can see a map of the main production areas of the south west here.
But actually I can’t resist bringing in a little IP Politics, blame William New from IP Watch, who recently published the news that a section dedicated to semi-generic brands had been included in a legislative omnibus ostensibly about Medicare. I have to say that I’m torn about geographical indications; they are both the form for protecting artisinal modes of production from the industrial process food juggernaut (perhaps), and the emerging form of ‘protectionism’ through market segmentation at a time when the the policy of subsidies is in retreat (certainly).
What is really fascinating, and pretty hilarious, is the role of the US in this. The USTR and enforcement apparatus habitually dedicates itself to driving for criminal sanctions for IP offences, retraining foreign police forces and customs officers in a crusade against copying and counterfeiting. Yet when it comes to wine? Consider the fact that in order to be marketed as Amercian Wine, only 75% of the grapes actually need to be sourced in the US. Or that burgundy, chablis, chianti and sauterne are considered to be generic. Mmmmh.
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