richard plaistowe

Cornish Pasties and Stilton have Protected Geographical Indication status, ensuring only products produced in a specific region and with specific characteristics can be described using these names.

A recent UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) decision involving basmati has demonstrated that such names can still be protected in the UK without being registered as PGIs and that this protection extends beyond the goods themselves to related services such as restaurants.

When Amira Pure Foods applied to register ‘Basmati Bus’ as a UK trademark covering restaurant services, the protector of Indian agricultural exporters, APEDA, wished to oppose this. Basmati Bus restaurants could serve any type of rice, but the UK public would believe that restaurants with such a name would serve dishes containing only basmati rice. The public could be misled and damage could be done to the basmati name.

As basmati is not registered as a PGI, APEDA had to rely on the collective goodwill in the name ‘basmati’ owned by UK traders in the rice. Therefore, the Amira application was opposed by a UK trader in basmati rice, Indo European Foods. The IPO ruled that basmati denoted a clearly defined class of goods and enjoyed protectable goodwill, and that the public were likely to be misled if Basmati Bus were used by a restaurant serving rice other than basmati. Amira therefore agreed to limit its trademark to restaurants serving genuine basmati dishes.

The IPO has followed previous UK decisions (including on Greek yoghurt and vodka) by holding that the name of a particular food or drink having specific characteristics could be protected on the basis of the goodwill in that name, even when used by a large number of different traders and even when not registered. This is very welcome news not only for UK importers and sellers of basmati, but also for others with an interest in recognised products. Despite the uncertainty as to the post-Brexit status of PGIs, it’s likely that Scotch whisky and Cumberland sausages will still be protected in the UK, even if they cease to enjoy PGI protection in the UK.

Richard Plaistowe is principal associate at Mills & Reeve