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Whither China's protection of geographical indications? A case study of Qinzhouhuang Millet

Zhao Xiaoping

Keywords: Qinzhouhuang Millet; geographical indications; trademarks; generic names

The case of Qinzhouhuang Millet, which concerns competing legal classifications for this regional product, is to date the only case concerning Geographical Indications (GIs) to have been considered by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) of China. Protection of GIs in China is achieved by multiple regimes, implemented by different agencies. Reminiscent of the Buddhist tale of the ‘blind men and an elephant’, it is like different people touching different parts of the elephant without knowing it as a whole. Similarly, Qinzhouhuang is regarded as a GI by some, others consider it to be a trademark, while a third opinion views it as a generic name. This is also reflected in the contradictory findings in the SPC's decision, which not only determined that Qinzhouhuang was a generic name, but also recognized Qinzhouhuang Millet as a Product of Geographical Indication (PGI). This case illustrates that, in accordance with the international trend of registration-based GI protection and the national conditions in China, in particular relating to the developing trade associations and the growing urban-rural disparity, China should prioritize sui generis GI protection within the hierarchy of existing regimes.

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